How To Do It.

I thought about calling this section "Roger's Rant". Every photographer learns through their experiences (mistakes as well as successes) and many smugly view the tribulations of others. They look at what they have learned as proprietary information that gives them a marketing edge over the competition. I have learned that the opposite is true. Every time I take a new photographer under my wing, they give me a fresh way of seeing the world, and my own photography matures. Being open with your knowledge encourages others to share with you as you are willing to share with them.

I am indebted to the many fine photographers who took time from their busy schedules to help me as I started developing my craft. The subject matter of the following pages varies from mental approach, to hard technical methods, to the business of making a living through photography. The writing is aimed at the serious photographer, and I apologize to any clients who might object to the methods photographers use to maintain their living. Please do not take exception to the merchandising recommendations. If your photographer cannot make a living, then you do not have a photographer. Remember that some of the equipment is priced at a level you might object to spending on an automobile.

I begin with the most accessible forms of photography for the new imager, and cover some of the technical basics. As time goes on, and I have the opportunity, I will be delving into more advanced types of work you might encounter, and will try to give some basic pointers for competence in these areas. Ultimately, you will develop your own working methods and photography styles. I just want to get you started. Feel free to register and comment, and start your own threads if you wish.

how to

Lost techniques - How to Hold a Camera


Digital photography has enabled many fine photographs, but many of the techniques which formed the basic repertoire of professional photographers have been lost in the film to digital shuffle. Primary among these are steady hands and smooth motion panning.

Steady hands

Today, low light photography is made easy by adjusting the camera ISO, allowing faster shutter speeds.

In the days of film, ISO (ASA) was fixed, and longer exposures were necessary for low available light shots. Then as now, tripods were preferred to steady the camera, but there are many situations where a tripod is inconvenient, and possibly unavailable. For instance, wedding photographers doing candle-lit portraits would hand hold exposures of 1/8 or 1/15 second.

Today more and more photographers are losing good shots to camera motion at shutter speeds of 1/25 sec and faster because they can't hold a camera steady. Learning to do so requires practice. Don't rely on Image Stabilization. Every camera manual I have seen has a Basic Shooting section which explains how to hold the camera. I have yet to find a new photographer who can admit they actually read that part of the manual.

First, hold the camera body firmly in your right hand, keeping your index finger free to reach the shutter button. Cradle the camera and/or lens in the palm of your left hand so your fingers can adjust the focus or zoom. Then bring the camera to your eye, tuck your arms and elbows against your chest, and, using both hands, hold the camera firmly against your face while you look throuth the viewfinder. Now breathe.

As you watch through the viewfinder remember to keep both eyes open. Train your viewfinder eye to be dominant. Now try holding one of the AF or AE marks against a fixed point in the view (not easy!), and move yourself into a comfortable and stable stance. Acceptable stances you will find are:

Standingstanding (left foot forward),







Kneeling - one kneekneeling on one knee,







Kneeling - two kneeskneeling on both knees (knees spread, sitting on heels),







Seatedand sitting on an chair or other raised surface (feet spread).







Seated - groundIf you sit on the ground, spread your feet and bend your knees so you can lean forward and brace your elbows against your knees.






ProneFor a prone position, brace your elbows on the ground and make yourself your tripod. (Practice them all.)






You will find as you inhale, the camera will tend to drift up. As you gently exhale, it becomes easier to hold the camera steady. If you try to hold your breath, you will probably see the camera bounce in time with your heart beat.

Now as you hold the camera, take two or three deep breaths, and then concentrate on holding it steady as you exhale. Inhale again, and repeat the exercise as you exhale. Get the feel of when the camera is steadiest. Know your sweet spot.

Now you are ready to try taking some pictures. Set your camera to full manual (M) or shutter priority (Tz) and set the shutter speed to 1/8 sec. Try this indoors or in low light.

The other source of camera movement is a jerky shutter release. Get your scene focused, Find a sharp point, or a couple of sharp edges (horizontal and vertical).  As you enter the sweet spot in your breathing, smoothly press the shutter button to take the picture. Don't punch it. Think more about simply moving it into your right hand as you hold the camera.

Then preview the image you have just taken, magnifying it to check for camera motion. Keep doing this until you can be sure just from the feel that 'that was a steady shot'.

Make this feeling a part of your photography, no matter what shutter speed you are using. Even for rapid fire continuous shooting, it pays to have steady hands. You will notice the difference.

Smooth Panning

Panning is the art of following motion with a camera.

At high shutter speeds, good panning technique will allow you maintain your composition with a moving subject. If necessary, you will be able to take a series of photographs with the subject positioned at a fixed point in all the frames. At slow shutter speeds, it will allow you to properly expose a moving subject, keeping it sharp, while allowing the background to blur with the camera motion. Learning to pan also requires practice.

Panning requires steady hands. If your hands are not steady, go back to the first section and keep practicing. You need to be steady and smooth. You are following a scene which disappears when the mirror flips up. You cannot see while the photograph is being taken.

As an initial exercise, move your camera from right to left during the exposure, using a shutter speed of 1/2 sec. Make sure the streaks are smooth and horizontal. Try the same from left to right. Are you keeping the camera pointed at the same level or is it climbing or dropping?

Then find a practice subject.

In reduced light like a rainy day, or in the late evening around sundown, set up beside a road and start photographing passing cars with your shutter set to 1/10 sec.

It's easy when you have practiced. Not so easy if you have never done it before.

digital photography


Put your camera on manual and, if you have one, use a hand-held light meter. The purpose of this article is to give you an understanding of exposure.

Exposure of a photograph depends upon four factors:

  1. Level of illumination
  2. Sensitivity of the film or digital sensor
  3. Shutter speed (exposure time), and
  4. Lens speed (aperture)

Understanding how these factors contribute to the correct exposure of a photograph, and how these factors interact to give the photographer a degree of creative licence, is the basis of anything else you will ever do with a camera.


It is a common misconception that the more light you have, the easier it is to take a photograph. Yes we need light, but we also need shadow, and we have to preserve detail in both. At this point it is sufficient to say that light is necessary. I will be revisiting the question of lighting later.


The sensitivity of the film or sensor is expressed as an ISO number. This number is simple to understand. If you are taking a photograph of a sunlit scene at midday under a cloudless sky, with the aperture of your lense set to f 16 (f 11 for digital), your shutter speed will be (the reciprocal of) the ISO. So if your ISO is 125, your shutter speed will be 1/125 of a second. If your ISO is 500, your shutter speed will ne 1/500 of a second for a correct exposure. So as the ISO number increases, so does the sensitivity.

In the days of film, increased ISO meant larger photosensitive crystals in the film, so each crystal would have more opportunity to capture light. Increased film sensitivity therefore meant increased graininess in the image. Digital sensors accomplish some increased sensitivity by electronic amplification of the stored image, but really large increases are accomplished by using adjacent pixels in the CCD sensor and adding the signals. The result, as with film, is increased graininess at higher ISO's. Digital sensors also exhibit electronic noise, particularily at higher ISO and/or with longer exposures. Noise reduction software has helped to compensate for this effect, but it adds to the apparent graininess of the image.


The camera shutter determines the length of time the film or CCD sensor will be exposed to the light. The more light reaching the film plane, the shorter the required exposure. If something is moving in your scene, the shutter determines how much of that motion is recorded. Slow shutter speeeds will allow slight motion to create a blur in your photograph, and fast shutter speeds will 'freeze' all but the most rapid motion.


Aperture diagram

The aperture of a lens determines its light-gathering capabilities. Two factors effect the aperture of the lens, namely the effective optical diameter of the front element, and its focal length. If a 100mm lens has a front element with a 50mm diameter, then the lens is said to be an f2 lens, meaning the diameter of the front element is 1/2 the focal length. The effective diameter may be modified using an internal adjustable iris diaphragm (stop) which blocks some of the light allowing a smaller portion to get through the lens. This iris acts very much like the iris in your eye.

The interesting thing about aperture is its effect on out of focus elements in the image.  To focus something in a photograph, the lens is moved back and forth until all light coming from the required plane of focus comes to a point on the film or sensor. Everything that is the same distance from the lense will be focused on the film plane. Anything in front of or behind the plane of focus, will also come to a focus point, but that point will be in front of or behind the film plane. The light from these out of focus elements, at the film plane, will be in the form of a circle, not a point, as shown in the diagram. As the aperture is made smaller, these circles also become smaller. The result is an increase in the apparent depth of field.


Putting it all together

As the intensity of illumination decreases, you must either increase the sensitivity or increase the exposure. Sacrificing resolution by increasing ISO is fine if graininess adds to the artistic effect of the photo, or if you will not be enlarging the photo enough to show the grain. To increase the exposure, you use a slower shutter speed and/or a wider aperture. Slower shutter speeds increase blurring due to motion, either in the subject or the camera, and wider apertures decrease your depth of field. If you need foreground and background both in sharp focus, you need a narrow aperture (f11 - f32) and should take measures to minimize the effects of motion. If you need to stop action, you need a high shutter speed, which means a wide aperture. You should practice rapid focusing and framing with the camera in front of your eye.

We speak of exposure in stops: one stop will halve or double the amount of light reaching the film plane. Increasing shutter speed from 1/125 to 1/250 of a second reduces the exposure by one stop. Likewise increasing aperture from f8 to f5.6 will increase the exposure by one stop. Aperture numbers begin to make more sense if you understand that doubling the aperture number is two stops. So f4 is four times the exposure of f8, which in turn is four times the exposure of f16. The standard aperture numbers, at one-stop intervals are: 1.4, 2.0, 2.8, 4.0, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22, 32. Most cameras will allow you to adjust aperture by 1/2 or 1/3 stop intervals for finer control.

f 2.6, 1/500 secf 32, 1/4 secThese two photos of a blade of grass illustrate the different effects of shutter speed and aperture. The exposures are equivalent, but shutter speed and aperture were varied by 7 stops. Both pictures were taken using a tripod to eliminated camera motion.

On the left, a shutter speed of 1/500 of a second froze all motion. The aperture of f 2.8 created a very narrow depth of field. The background is an even green colour, and parts of the grass are out of focus.

On the right, a shutter speed of 1/4 second allowed the light breeze to move the grass during exposure. The aperture of f 32 kept all parts of the grass in focus, and details of the background are becoming apparent.

Exposure decisions are not simply about the amount of light captured, but must take into account any motion which may occur in the scene, and the desired depth of field. These decisions should be made by you the photographer, and not left to chance by trusting the camera's automatic settings.

As an exercise, put your camera through its paces and learn how shutter speed and aperture effect the final image. The better you know your camera, the better the images you will create.

depth of field

Saving Memories: Back Up Your Mobile Device Photos

With the increasing popularity of cameras in mobile phones, syncing files between phones and your computers has become a major issue with computing today. The advent of cloud computing is an approach to keeping your photos available wherever you may be. I can't remember the number of time I have heard of someone losing all their photos with the loss of their cell phone. has a free file-sync and backup service that you can use to back up and restore your files (2 Gb up to 15 Gb) for free. Their paid service is about the fairest you will find on the internet (100 Gb for $10/month) if you wish to upgrade. also allows you to save your photos from your mobile device and sync them with all your other devices.

Install Dropbox today! After you have installed it on your computer, go to "Getting Started", choose option 7 "Install Dropbox on your Mobile Device", and follow the instructions. After installing Dropbox on your phone, start the Dropbox app, and enter your credentials. 

On my own phone (Blackberry) I use the Options button to view a menu. When I select 'Upload a Photo", I am given the choice to add an existing photo from my device, or to take a new photo, and have it instantly sent to all my devices. Handy!

If you do have a lot of photos on your phone, it is best to link your phone directly to your computer (via USB cable usually) and to save all the photos at once. Saves uploading the photos one at a time, and saves bandwidth. However the convenience and peace of mind that an extra couple of key strokes will offer you makes it worth your while to use Dropbox each time you take a photo.

We cannot recommend strongly enough. Make them a part of your work flow and avoid the disaster which will surely happen if you have not backed up your work. You do not want to risk losing all those memories.

mobile phone
file sync

Basic Portraiture

People have their photographs taken formally for a number of reasons, but it is usually done at a time in their life when they feel good about themselves, and they want you to preserve that time for them and their family. As a photographer you have a responsibility to know intimately the technical side of your craft so your time with the subject is spent achieving the shot rather than getting overwhelmed with last minute adjustments to lighting and exposure. Portraiture is about the subject.

Basic portraiture is the bread and butter side of personal photography. If you are going to compete with a Walmart you are going to have to understand how to do the same thing that they do. Look at their business model, and do it better. I have always been surprised at the number of photographers who, when starting out, are willing to pass up a steady income flow which will help them establish themselves. No wonder so many fine photographers don't succeed. This article is to show the new, and perhaps the experienced, photographers that it is possible to support your professional growth using photography instead of packing groceries. This type of income stream will help pay staff, which you will need when you get busy. It is also something that you can train others to do so they can keep your business going while you are off working on your next gallery show (if you should be so lucky!).

The basic rules of professional portraiture are simple:

  1. Women are beautiful
  2. Men have character
  3. Kids are happy
  4. Babies chortle with delight
  5. Families are close
  6. Couples are deeply in love
  7. Pets are just the cutest little things you have ever met!

If you cannot hold to these rules in your heart, then choose another branch of photography. Technical competence will not be enough.

Assembly Line

We are talking about simple set ups. Remember the work is with the subject. If you turn them, you do not want to have to change your lighting. If you have two or more people in front of the camera, you want them all to be well lit. At the same time you want to have modeling in their faces and highlights in their eyes.

Your subject(s) want something special that they cannot obtain using their camera phone, and you want something that allows you to work with the people without regard to technical details. For real assembly line work, I use three lights and a painted background or ChromaKey. With these backgrounds, you do not have to worry about a background light. Just keep them far enough behind the subject (at least 10 feet) that they receive soft and even illumination from the other lights.

The three basic lights are:

Key Light
Strongest light, set about 3 meters (10 feet) in front of the subject at about a 45 degree angle. This light is either bounced from an umbrella, or diffused through a small soft box. It should be set high so the light comes from about 30 to 45 degrees above the subject. Your exposure is based on this light.
Fill Light
This light is bounced from a large umbrella or a white wall, and the bounce surface must be above your camera height. It should be adjusted so the light at the subject is at least 1.5 stops less than the key light. Its function is to boost shadow detail without overwhelming the modeling produced by the key light. It should be placed low enough to produce highlights in the subject(s) eyes.
Kicker Light
This light is placed facing the key light with the subject in the middle. Its purpose is to create slight highlights at the edge of the shadow side of the subject(s) face. For assembly line work, I bounce this light, but use barn doors to reduce the bounce area and provide some focus. At the subject, it should be about 1 stop less than the key light.

To do ID photography, like passports, shut off the kicker light and drop a paper background behind the subject.


Every studio should have a stool. If the subject is taller than you, you definitely want them seated. A seated subject is also less likely to change position and destroy the shot.

A posing bench or table will give the subject a surface to lean on. When I was starting out, I put a 1/4-20 threaded aluminum plate on the bottom ot a 12"X18" table top, and mounted it on a tripod to serve as an adjustable posing table. A selection of remnants from a fabric thrift store allowed me to change the colour and texture of the table for variety.

If you intend to photograph infants (or pets) a table is required, and it should be large enough to keep attendants out of the frame while ensuring the safety of the child. Blankets and cushions can be used to position the child.

Be sparing with props. If the client wants something included in a photograph, they will usually bring it. Scenic backgrounds are not recommended unless you can afford a large variety so the client can choose. If the client is not comfortable with the background, they will probably reject even the best photos. Keep the attention on the subject.

An alternative to many backgrounds is Chroma Key. The client has trouble pre-visualizing, but a wide variety of backgrounds can be inserted at will behind your subjects. You can collect your own backgrounds as you wander with your camera - that sunset, a stone wall ... always keeping in mind the fact that you will be placing someone's portrait on top of the image you are collecting. (Constantly enlarging your collection of background images will keep your eye sharp and helps to prevent tunnel vision when you are doing other assignments!)

How to Make it Happen

Work by appointment!

If you are alone (just starting out) and you have a walk-in then "I have an appointment open right now if you are interested." ID photos for passports etc can be on a walk-in basis, but you have to remember that 'While you wait' translates to others as 'while they wait'. You will do the photos, then you can get to the prints right after you are finished with your next appointment. (Just sign right here. That will be $25.00. How are you paying?) When you grow and get staff, your receptionist will handle juggling clients and will be able to do the ID photos without your involvement.

You need a reception area, with seats (for comfort) and a large mirror (so they can check their appearance before sitting in front of the camera). When the appointment is made, the sitting fee is collected, the names (and contact information) recorded, and the desired background is chosen. All of this is kept in a docket, very much like in a dentists office. An appointment card is issued, and the clients are asked to be at least 15 minutes early. They should also be instructed on what to wear if you intend to use ChromaKey. Discuss what they are thinking about, make a decision on green or blue, and let them know to avoid the key colours.

When the clients arrive for their appointment, the receptionist should review the sitting order to make sure it is correct, advise them to take adventage of the mirror to check their appearance, and then to have a seat. The docket and an empty memory card go to you the photographer, and you set up everything as you will need it, then collect the clients from the reception. Work efficiently, and get the shots, then ask the clients to wait in reception while the proofs are prepared. (If disaster strikes, you can bring them right back in to redo the shots!)

If you use painted backgrounds, the proofs can generally be printed straight from the camera using PictBridge. Otherwise, plug the memory card into a computer and use the appropriate software. If you are using ChromaKey and inserting backgrounds, they should be inserted prior to your printing the proofs. (Remember with post-processing, you NEVER overwrite your original file. Always 'Save As' a copy. If they do not like the background when they see it, you can change the background for a 'modest re-proofing fee'.) Print the proofs 4-up on 4X6 paper, and use a rubber stamp on the back to put a standard copyright notice, your studio name and contact information, date and docket number on the proofs.

It is likely that the clients will order before they leave your studio. Whether they do or not, make sure they leave with a blank order form, just in case they want to order more copies. Prints are sold as packages. Use Adobe's organizer or the equivalent to print the packages on letter size glossy photo paper, and you charge by the sheet, rather than by the print. (Let them cut the sheets to separate the prints.) One sheet would have either one 8X10, two 5X7, one 5X7 and 4 wallet size ... Add a dollar per sheet if you are to use printed framing (fuzzy ovals, patterned borders etc.)

When they pick up their order, include a coupon for $10 off their next sitting, and another for 15% off their next print order, and, of course, another blank order form.

Competing with Walmart

The prices set at Picture This type franchises are actually more than adequate to support the type of work that they do. Remember that these places pay a premium to their host for the privilege of using their name, and suffer from coupon fatigue, as they never know when the next flyer will cut into their margins. Find the cheapest in your area (Walmart, Sears, Target ....) and shave 5 cents off of each of their basic prices, and you will be the lowest priced provider in your area. (Do not offer to accept competitors coupons, as their pockets are a lot deeper than yours.)

The staff at these franchises do not receive commissions, and most work at or near minimum wage. They have sales quotas they must meet in order to be assigned enough hours to pay their rent. Upselling is a survival instinct with them, or they lose their jobs. Although clients might be happy with the photos, few are happy with the way they are treated.

Treat your clients with respect. Be happy to see them and encourage them to return. Most cannot afford higher end portraiture, but they can see that you do it well. In a few years their children may get married, and you want them to consider your studio for their wedding photography. Some may work in businesses that need a competent photographer, and your display photos may lead to an assignment. Your best advertising is a satisfied customer, particularly one who feels welcome to drop in just to say hello.

Franchise studios began as loss-leaders for department stores, and were placed in the most remote part of the store. Clients would have to pass through most of the store on their many trips to the studio. The stores made their money from the impulse buying that occurred during these trips. This created a large market for inexpensive portraiture. Today the studios are placed at the entrance, and are no longer subsidized. They now have to actively compete with you in order to survive. You must be willing to do the same for the same reason. They are not your competitor, you are theirs!

As you grow, keep an eye on what is happening at the franchises. Pay particular attention to who is working there, and if you see one who is developing a high degree of client loyalty, give them your card and ask to meet with them for coffee after work. View their personal portfolio, and ask if they would be willing to come to work for you. Remember if you match what they are making, give them regular hours, and a 5% commission, they will be sorely tempted. (Add access to group medical and dental, if you can, and an opportunity to advance as your assistant, and maybe as an independent photographer, and serious photographers will jump at the chance.) If the hiring is successful, take an ad in the consumer section of the local paper announcing to their past clients that they are now working for your studio, and invite their clients to drop in for a visit.

A professional photographer makes their living from the business of photography. Business supports art.

If you can't get your head around that one, maybe you should take a job at Walmart.

green screen
blue screen

Formal Wedding Photography: 1. Planning

Very few photographers have what it takes to do formal wedding photography. The technical aspects of your craft have to be second nature, and you have to be able to manage people without offending them.

You must be both artist and project manager without seeming to intrude on your clients' special day. When you first meet with your potential clients, you begin taking notes! Document everything you discuss and do. Even if you are not hired to do the photography, your notes become part of your learning experience, and may give you clues as to what you might do differently to capture the potential clients' interest. These notes will also be invaluable when you receive a call 3 months later and they say, "It's .... , do you remember me?".

When you sit down with your clients, the very first thing you must make clear to them is that good photographs do not happen by accident. If they want snapshots, then everyone at the wedding will be taking pictures, and they can collect snapshots from their guests.

Although you may do some candids if they wish, your job is to properly document the day and to give them memorable shots they will be proud to show others for years to come. For this to happen, your photography must become an integral part of the day, and the day must be planned accordingly. Also stress that the better informed the people are about the photography, the smoother and less intrusive it will be. Perhaps you can include a final planning session which will include the bridal party and immediate family on both sides. If they are using a wedding planner, make sure that you contact the planner and coordinate with them.

The Day

Your day will begin at the bride's home about 2 hours before the ceremony. You will do a number of shots of the bride, her family and the wedding party. This gives you the opportunity to review the planned photography (informally) with the bridal party, and to establish a rapport with them. With their help and understanding, the rest of the day will be organized by them with only minimal guidance from you. (Fail to establish that rapport, and you will be fighting an uphill battle trying to coordinate everyone for the shots.)

You will leave the bride's home at least 1/2 hour before the bride to be at the venue and set up when she arrives for the ceremony.

Some venues might have restrictions on photography. If so, let the bride deal with the priest on this matter first. She is more likely to change his mind than you are.

Some might object to the use of flash, and some might have restrictions on where you can place yourself or move about during the ceremony. If you are not familiar with the venue, try to arrange attendance at the rehearsal to plan your photography. If you have questions for the priest, save them for after the rehearsal.

After the ceremony, formal shots are usually arranged before the reception. You should be familiar with the various locations in your area, as well as any seasonal variations those locations may have. If an outdoor location is chosen, always make arrangements for an indoor location in case of inclement weather. Allow at least 2 hours for this work, and, again, make sure that everyone who is needed will be there to start. You will start with family groups and special friends, followed by the bridal party, finishing with the bride and groom alone. As you finish with people, you will send them on ahead to the reception so the number of people decreases and the work relaxes.

During the reception, arrange for an hour to get something to eat. Most clients are willing to provide a place for the photographer at the reception, but this should never be assumed. If you take a break, your return should be scheduled prior to the cutting of the cake. Photography should continue until the bride and groom finally leave.


Weddings are always shot using the highest resolution possible. I originally used 120 (6X6) colour. Anything smaller would not enlarge without showing grain and losing sharpness. Digital SLR is fine, but do not use a half-frame sensor.

The camera should be of professional grade like a Canon 5D or 1D. Zoom lenses are fine if they are sharp, like the Canon EF 28-70mm mark II (the "secret gem"). Otherwise use prime focus lenses for your critical work.

It goes without saying to carry two cameras, two flashes, at least two sets of fully charged batteries for each, and multiple memory cards. Equipment failure happens when it is least convenient. Handle-mount flashes are recommended, like the Metz Mecablitz. If you do carry a shoe-mount unit, make it your backup.

You will carry a bag of tricks. Every wedding photographer should carry safety pins! Wardrobe malfunctions will ruin the photo sessions as people run around trying to fix the problem. If you have readily available safety pins to fix rips and failed fasteners, you not only save the photo session, but you will be their hero as you have just saved the day.

If you intend to do candle light photos, bring your own candles, matches and candle holder. Also bring a large (black) cloth to go under the candles and catch any wax drip. Carry a white waterproof sheet to protect the bride's dress if you wish to pose her seated and the ground might be damp or dirty.

A tripod is advisable for low light, however it is not mandatory. As you develop your craft, you will add other items which might prove useful.

Attire and Deportment

A wedding is no place for jeans and a photographers vest. Show some respect and make sure your attire is as good as the best dressed guests. I made a point always to wear a suit and tie (my collection of safety pins was inside the left breast of the jacket).

NEVER accept an alcoholic beverage. If something goes wrong, you do not want anyone to say they saw you drinking.

Weddings create a mass hysteria in the guests, prompting them to feel all lovey toward their mates. Single guests are no different. NEVER try to get their name and number (even if offered). If you meet them later under different circumstances it is open season, but don't risk the dangers of their sober second thought when your income depends on their good opinion of you. I always wore a ring to thwart any such situation.

Carry business cards, but only bring one out if asked. The guests will see your work, and will be referred by the bride and groom if they wish to contact you. You are there to do a job, not to network.

If you need something, be friendly but firm. Enlist the help of the best man and maid of honour to collect people for a task.

Never touch anyone unless you tell them you are going to do so ("Here ... let me change your position a bit...."), and use the photographers two-fingered persuasion (only the middle fingers of the left and right hands contact the subject to gently show them how you wish them to move). NEVER grasp any part of any subject, and never touch any part of them that might be misconstrued as an intimate contact.

You are a photographer. You are a professional. Be both!


Formal Wedding Photography: 2. The Bride's Home


On the day of the wedding you, the photographer, will arrive at the bride's home about 2 hours prior to the ceremony. The purpose of this visit is not just the photography you will do.

This is your opportunity to develop a rapport with the bride, her family and the bridesmaids. In particular get to know the maid of honour, and enlist her help to organize the photos. This will set the tone for the remainder of the day, and she will be your best ally.

As you are introducing yourself and setting up your equipment, survey the home for shooting locations. Look for a good background with about 20 to 25 feet of clear space in front for group shots. Moving furniture to make room is usually permissible. (Just make sure you restore everything before leaving! You do not want the family to return home after midnight only to have to re-arrange the furniture you disrupted.) Find a good window with soft light for window light portraits, and look for interesting features to incorporate in your shots (mirror, fireplace ... ). If outdoor shots are requested, be careful not to soil dresses and shoes in the process.

Throughout the day you will be looking for a closing shot for the album (the one that sums things up ...). If the bride is not quite ready when you arrive, request her veil, shoes and bouquet, and do a still life.

You begin with group photos of the bride with family. Avoid massive groups. People look better in small groups. They are more manageable. You do not need as much room to accomplish the shot. Your income is ulimately tied to the number of shots they purchase. If the bride requests a massive family photo, do it first. It is easier to move in for smaller groups than it is to try larger groups and realize you do not yet have enought room.

There is a bit of an art to doing standing group photos. Posing is extremely important. The bride is typically in the middle. Have her turned with her shoulders at 45 degrees to the camera, with her head turned so her face is fully visible. Arrange the brides dress so it drapes properly, have her hold her bouquet so it is fully visible, and do a full length shot of the bride. Have her remain in this spot while you arrange the group shots around her one by one.  As you line people up on either side, they too are turned at 45 degrees into the middle. Try as much as possible to match heights, with a smooth gradation from short to tall. Children can be placed in front. Feet in front should have toes pointing toward the camera. (One foot noticably out of line will catch the attention of the viewer, and the foot has become the point of interest!) When you are posing the group, leave your camera back at your shooting position, and work with each person to position them.  When the group is assembled, go back to your camera, make last minute adjustements if necessary, and take the shot. (Always 2 or 3 exposures to get one with no closed eyes.)

Camera position is critical. You should have your camera about 3 feet (1 metre) above the ground, and shoot dead level, composing the group as full length. (If you do not have the room, raise your camera slightly and go for 3/4 length.) If your camera is not level, your shot will keystone. If the camera is too high, for instance, and you are shooting on a down angle, the subjects at the edge of the group will appear to be falling backwards. Always use flash. Indoors, a direct flash may be necessary. Use bounced flash if you have a suitable surface and a strong enough flash unit. Shooting outdoors in a soft shade, use just enough flash to produce highlights in their eyes. In direct sun, backlight the subjects and use a flash fill one stop under the daylight (expose for the backlight).

The secret to avoiding stiff and unnatural subjects in this group photography marathon is simple: Keep things moving. Have a constant friendly banter with the people around you, letting them know what you want and what you are doing. When you start arranging a group, always announce to the maid of honor, "Next I am going to need....". Each group, once you have them before you, should take no more than 30 seconds to pose, and 15 seconds to shoot. Always say thank you, then move on to the next group.

The groups follow a pattern like:

  • Bride alone
  • Bride with parents
  • Bride with siblings
  • Bride with children
  • Bride with grand parents
  • Bride with other family members, as small groups, and finally
  • Bride with maid of honor
  • Bride with bride's maids

After the standing groups, try to arrange a more creative pose with the bridal party. Look for a corner you can use to surround the seated bride with her bride's maids. Most homes have a comfortable corner someplace.

This gives the bride a chance to sit and relax. Give her a short rest while you get ready for your one-on-one work.

Always be sensitive to things that happen around the bride, and be ready to get the shot. Remember that although she thinks that she is having a break, you have just posed her there! Some amazing shots can happen when people are not expecting the camera.

Take your time to do a superior window light portrait of the bride. Choose a window without direct sunlight streaming in. Soft sky light is more flattering. Look for Rembrandt lighting, with the little triangle-shaped highlight on the shadowed cheek. Shoot into the shadow side. Variations can include using the groom's ring as a prop, having the maid of honor hold a bouquet in the foreground for a little out of focus colour ....

Always shoot this with available light. If you use a reflector for fill, keep it subtle.

If the wedding is late in the year, make sure you do this shot while you still have daylight. You may have to advance it to the beginning of your routine if early darkness threatens.

Finally, you should be fairly familiar with the contents of the house, and if any can provide you with opportunities to do additional shots. Look for unique pieces of furniture, mirrors etc, and let your creativity flow.

Mirrors are difficult to use. Flash should be bounced off a far wall to create soft lighting of the bride's profile. Properly done, her reflection in the mirror will show classic Rembrandt lighting. Be careful not to allow the flash to spill into either your direct or reflected backgrounds.

If you are considering doing any matte box picture in picture effects, leave them to the end.

You should be leaving the bride's home about 1/2 hour before the bride. Make your way to the church, letting her know that you will be meeting them outside the church when they arrive.


Formal Wedding Photography: 3. The Ceremony


Getting to the church ahead of the bride is not just about getting your equipment ready. Introduce yourself to the ushers, and let them know what you are going to be doing. You will need a spot in the pews (on the bride's side if your flash is on the left of your camera) with a clear view of the aisle without guests blocking your shots. Have the ushers keep your sight lines clear when they are seating the guests.

Meet the groom and best man, co-opting the best man just as you did the maid of honour at the bride's home. If you have not already met the priest (minister, rabbi ...) introduce yourself and discuss your movements, shooting requirements, and any restrictions they may have on what you are doing during the ceremony.

Leave your equipment cases at the back of the church, carrying only what you will need. Keep it light and versatile.

Be outside to meet the bride and her father as they arrive. Get a shot of the two of them in the back of the limosine, and/or getting out. After the rest of the party has entered the church, have the father opening the door for the bride, with both looking back at the camera. This shot is a classic known as "The Last Look at Freedom". (Make them aware that you need to get into the church and in position before they enter.)

Just before the procession of the bridal party, you get into the section of the pews reserved for you by the ushers. Shooting from the side you can capture multiple images of the bride's maids and maid of honour, and the bride with her father.

If there is a flower girl or ring bearer, step into the aisle and get the shot as they approach your camera. Remember that these are little people, so keep your camera position REALLY low. After the shot, get out of their way. Do not impede their trip down the aisle.

After the bridal party has passed, step into the aisle again and get a couple of shots of the bride being handed from father to groom, then step to the back of the church.

Remember that you are a part of the day, but that you should not intrude on it. As you move around the church, do so decisively, but quietly. Do not rush, as this will create a distraction. Do not try to sneak, as nothing is more obvious and attention getting than a skulker. If you move at a normal pace, without fanfare, to position yourself for your next shots, you will not be noticed. Keep your movements to a minimum, moving only when necessary. Do what you need to do, then become invisible.

You will now have a few minutes to do some overall shots of the ceremony. If there is a balcony, use it. Use available light only if at all possible. WIth lots of windows and sunlight streaming in, try to keep the shots high key. Use a soft focus or diffuser to add to the effect. If the shots are low key, your matte box will work well.

Get your overalls, and any exterior shots you need, then move up an outside aisle (usually the left side) to get into position for the exchange of vows and rings, the blessing, and the first kiss. Remember to angle your shots so both the bride's and groom's faces are visible. Usually you will be using flash for these shots, so wait for the critical moment, and take a single shot.

If there will be a communion, it will be shot from the same position. If the entire congregation is to receive communion, then you will have additional time to retire to the back of the church for overall shots.

Position people for the signing of the register and take your shots as it is being signed. Do not try to repose the signing afterwards. It never works. People are willing to take a few seconds, with direction, to give you a good shot for the bride, however after the register is signed, they just want to get out of the church. Placing bouquets on the altar or table can give you a more pleasing composition. If you are shooting a wedding in a synagogue, be aware that the register is not signed afterwards, rather the wedding contract is signed prior to the ceremony. These contracts are often beautifully illuminated documents, and you should never pass up the opportunity to photograph the signing. (It goes without saying that as a wedding photographer, you should be familiar with the order of service which will be used for the ceremony. If not, make sure you are by the time you have to cover the wedding.)

Finish with a shot of the bride and groom leading the recessional. You need to be in the aisle before they start to move.

Although nothing says 'Happy Day' better than newlyweds ducking a shower of confetti, most venues frown on this practice. Regardless, be ready for the shot if it happens.

Before you leave for the location photos, let the best man and maid of honour know who you will need and where they are to be. You go directly to the location and await the arrival of the wedding party.






Formal Wedding Photography: 4. After the Ceremony


The photography after the ceremony can be a logistical nightmare. It is imperative that you be ready for what is about to happen.

After the ceremony, a convoy will depart the church, led by the happy couple's vehicle and followed by overenthusiastic guests who set out to violate noise bylaws in as many neighborhoods as time will permit. If you have done your job, this convoy will ultimately arrive at the photo destination reasonably on time, and with everybody you need. Photo locations for weddings are like tour bus destinations. Groups will be arriving simultaneously, with each photographer wanting his wedding party in front of the best photo backgrounds. By the time your party arrives, have your background selected. If you have an assistant (lucky you), have them collect the party and guests, and bring them to you.

Anchor your groups! Place the bride and groom where the center of the groups will be, and clear enough room for the largest group. Make sure your equipment cases are reserving your shooting position. Guests with camera phones, SureShots etc are going to congregate pushing one another and trying to get shots of what you are doing. They are all in a rush to take their photo before they lose the posed group. They will also all be talking at once to the people you have in front of your camera, and if you do not get control of the guests at this point, your group shots will suck!

Before you pose the bride and groom, ask "Is there anyone with cameras who would like to take pictures here?" When the group of guests is assembled, explain to them that time is limited, but if everything can be managed efficiently, you can make sure that everyone has an opportunity to get a photo. The rules are simple:

  1. "Everyone stand back, give me room while I arrange the group, and remain quiet while I do my photography."
  2. "I will then have anyone who wants a photograph come forward so they can get their shot."
  3. "Then everyone step back and let me arrange the next group."

If you have someone who is crowding you, just look through the camera at the group, take a step back and run into them, then apologize "I didn't realize you were so close. Could you please step back and give me a little more room? I want to do this quickly so you and everyone else has a chance to get pictures." You are doing them a favour in return for their co-operation. (Remember when you call them forward to take photos, do not leave your shooting position, and remain standing. You do not stage-manage their shots, only your own, and make sure that they have to shoot from the side. )

Then pose the bride and groom, and get a full length shot. Ask them to remain while you arrange the groups. Have the best man and maid of honour collecting the next group while you are posing each. Groups will run like:

  • Bride and groom alone,
  • Couple with bride's parents,
  • Couple with bride's family,
  • Couple with groom's parents,
  • Couple with groom's family,
  • Couple with special guests,
  • Couple with special friends, and finally
  • Couple with full bridal party

As you finish with each group, thank them and send them on to the reception. The logic here is to reduce the number of people you have to manage as quickly as possible. With any luck, all of the cameras will also go to the reception and leave you in peace to do the real photography with the bridal party.

Change your background. You are working with less people, and they will appreciate variety. If possible, none of these group should be in a line. Arrange the bride and groom differently for each shot, and surround them wih a pleasing arrangement of the members of the bridal party. Work first with the entire bridal party, then the bride's maids, then the groom's men, and finally the best man and the maid of honour. Send them on to the reception, and have the maid of honour collect any guests that are left. "Let's give them some privacy and a moment to relax before the reception....."

At this point you have to give the bride and groom a moment to relax and to relate to each other. Take the pressure off them. "Just take a few minutes, and a few deep breaths. No pressure. We will then do a few relaxed shots, without the madding crowds."













Formal Wedding Photography: 5. The Reception


Wedding receptions are full of surprises! Although the majority are treated as formal banquets and protocols are followed, few of the participants are bound by protocol. Be ready.

Set your equipment to manual and use hyperfocal ranges. Do not rely on autofocus or autoexposure. AF is too slow, and AE is sketchy at best. Use a standard (prime focus) lens for your sensor size (50 mm for full sensor, 35 mm for 1/2 size sensor). Set your aperture to f8, your focus to 5 meters (15 feet) and make sure your flash has enough power to properly expose at that distance. A non-hot shoe type like a Mecablitz with a shoulder pack, is best if available. Then do point and shoot photography. Concentrate on composition and expression, and don't touch the focus or exposure.

Do not make the assumption that the bride and groom will feed you, but make it clear that you have to eat. Ask them when they are scheduled to cut the cake. You need to know when you are to return after breaking for supper. Usually they will then set a place for you so you don't have to leave. If you stay, remember that you are there to take photographs.

  • Take a place at the back of the room. You are not in the way, and you can see everything that is happening. Pay attention to the room.
  • Be prepared to interrupt your meal for photos.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, pick up an alcoholic beverage, even to hand it to someone else. If the bride or groom insist, then simply tell them you prefer 'not to get fuzzy' as it might affect the photos. Tell them you would be happy to have a drink after the photography is finished, then avoid the question and keep taking pictures. The same goes for smoking. If you take a break to have a cigarette, you will probably miss at least one good shot, and you will stink of tobacco smoke when you return. If you smoke, learn to abstain for a day while you work!

If there is to be a receiving line, be ready as the first guests approach the bride and groom. If you fail to get the shot at the beginning, you will probably have your view blocked by large groups stopping to talk to the parents. After you get your initial shot, move around to the back and watch for a couple of emotional candids.

If you have the opportunity, get a shot of the wedding cake while the receiving line is proceeding.





Do the shot of the head table when they assemble there, before the food is served. Take the time to arrange the bouquets along the front edge of the table to provide a floral foreground. If the bride's maids are seated at another table, have them put their bouquets on the head table for safe keeping during the meal. Later when you are taking photographs of speeches and kisses, keep your camera position low enough to obscure the half finished meal and soiled table linens behind the flowers on the edge! Nothing ruins a reception photo like a messy table.

During the meal, the majority of your shots will be at the head table. Make sure you get the following:

  • Groom kissing bride when glasses are tinkled. Do not bother with the first one; it will be tentative. The second or the third will be more passionate. Stop when you have a good one. Do not be a nuisance.
  • Toast to the bride.
  • Groom responding.
  • Any impromptu speeches or presentations. Make sure they are special. Do not try a shot of every bozo who thinks he is a comedian. Keep your eyes and ears open and stay sensitive. If you hear groans, the bride and groom will probably not want to remember it.



The cutting of the cake is typically at the end of the meal, although it may be delayed. This shot is posed! If the table is cluttered, move the bouquets from the head table and arrange them around the cake for your foreground. A good start is the groom behind the bride, both right hands on the knife. Do three shots with both looking at the cake, both looking at the camera , and both looking at each other. If they give each other a piece of cake, it is a fourth shot. (As with the group shots, hold your composition and shooting position, and let others take what photos they wish from other vantage points after you have completed your three shots.)

While the entertainment is being set up, the bride and groom will visit the guests, usually distributing chunks of wedding cake and favours. Grab a few candid shots of interactions with parents and the bridal party, then back off.


Arrange the first dance with the bride and groom before the music begins. Let them know where they need to be on the dance floor, and where you will be. Have them keep in mind that you need to see both their faces. Have them keep themselves sideways so they can both see you out of the side of their eye, while looking at each other. Get your shot quickly, and get off the dance floor. When capturing candids of the bride and groom dancing with parents, concentrate on capturing the parents' faces. Their expressions are the most important.





About 2/3 of the way through the reception, the bride and groom will be ready for a break. Enlist the aid of the maid of honor, and find a private room where you can set up for some candle light portraits. You will need a holder for at least 8, and preferably 12 candles. Have the maid of honor collect the bride and groom, and the bride's bouquet. When they arrive, put your camera down and have them sit and relax for a few minutes.

You need them relaxed for the portraits, and it gives you a chance to improve your rapport with them. If they provided a meal for you, thank them and tell them how much you enjoyed and appreciated it. It is quite likely they need to hear this. There is always someone at a reception who thinks its cool to complain about rubber chicken.

When they are relaxed, light the candles and have the maid of honor act as your light stand, moving the candles to where you need them for the shot, and moving them away as you set up the next (Those candles are hot!). Do a few of the bride and groom alone, and a few of them together. Remember during this entire effort to speak gently, and to keep a smile in your voice.


After the shots are finished, take the time to talk to the bride and groom about the throwing of the garter and bouquet. Like the first dance, they need to be aware of what you need, to allow you to set up the shot, and to act on your direction. Your directions should not detract from the mood of the moment, so arrange subtle cues that they can watch for. This should be fun.



The removal of the garter is generally managed by the single males in the room. Preserve a clear shot and choose your angle to emphasize the bride's leg. (That's lleeegggg!) Her gown should be shown raised as high as decency will alllow, so use a low camera position, and try to capture the fun as the groom begins to slide the garter down.








The throwing of the garter and the throwing of the bouquet are both done the same way. To minimize flash fall-off, you angle your position to the action as much as possible, and, if you can, feather your flash toward the group of single males (females) who will be catching the garter (bouquet). Your position should be elevated (stand on a chair) and the shot composed so the groom (bride) is in the forground. Keep some headroom in your shot. The group will be reachng up.  The farther you can get from the action, and still maintain a clear shot and good exposure, the better. You are shooting for peak action.  Signal the groom (bride) to make the toss, and wait that fraction of a second for the group to react. You are trying to photograph the group just as they are reaching to make the catch.



The only thing left is the departure. The bride and groom might change their clothes on site, then leave, or they may leave to change. Grab a couple of candid goodbye shots, then follow them to the car and do a shot of the groom holding the door for the bride.

Have a final word with the couple, wishing them a fun honeymoon and a happy life, and let them go.

Pack up your equipment and leave quickly. Do not get involved in the activities after the bride and groom leave!


Formal Wedding Photography: Epilogue

Wedding photography is a responsibility. You are tasked to produce a photo essay telling the story of the event.

Like anything else, wedding photography is evolving. Clients are expecting a more relaxed presentation, which is fine. However, the basic requirements have not changed. Changes in the photography are additive. make sure you get the required shots, and then take your time and duplicate them with a less formal approach. Spread the groups out. Use non-standard compositions. Play with poses, or let the subjects play. Just make sure that you don't miss the basic photography by doing so. You should also keep in mind that they are there to get married, not to spend the day being your models.  If you have developed a working rapport with the bride and groom and have planned your shooting (both essential for  wedding coverage), you can use a photojournalistic approach with minimal or no direction on the general coverage.

Advocates of the Spray and Pray method of doing weddings, like David Jay, do the industry a disservice. While it is true that digital technology allows us to shoot many more pictures than film allowed, creating meaningful images for the bride and groom is still the raison d'etre of the wedding photographer. I have heard of photographers who shot 2000 to 5000 photos during a wedding. I have heard about them because they were a nuisance and detracted from the event with their intrusions. I have heard of them because they failed to produce many acceptable shots. I have heard of them because people were disappointed.

There is nothing wrong with taking lots of photographs, but the idea is to do several exposures of groups, vary the shots as much as possible, and to work to create a definitive collection of images that will please and surprise the clients. Treat each exposure as a fresh concept, and work to make it the best. Do not try to recover a poor job with volume!

Your job as the primary photographer is to pay attention to what is happening around the bride and groom. Don't miss an opportunity because you are off trying to capture candids of the guests. If you have an assistant, let them carry another camera and do the roaming candid shots when they are not helping you.  If you are mentoring them, give them a short shot-list, and see what they can come up with.

Photo Booth

One problem photographers face, particularly during the reception, is guests who think they can get a cheap professional portrait because there is a pro taking pictures. They want to piggyback the work on the brides and grooms contract.  In the days of film we could politely refuse saying that the film was limited and we didn't have enough to do the work. The real reason remains that you are working for the bride and groom, and not for the guests.

Today this is generally handled by settng up a photo booth service at the reception.  Your assistant can man the booth which consists of a tripod-mounted camera and a flash bounced from an umbrella, using a plain background. The guests can come singly or in small groups, and your assistant can take 4-6 shots of each. Guests can pose any way they wish, and the shots can be burned onto a CD as part of the wedding package.  (Shoot them as medium resolution jpeg so you can fit all the photos on a single CD or DVD.)

The photo booth can be added as an extra service, and the charge allows ou to pay for an assisant to man the booth. The CD can be mass produced ($5 to $10 each) and can be marketed as a favor to be included in the thank you cards to be sent out to the guests. 

This will allow you to sidestep any requests for your professional services during the reception (tell them t go to the photo booth), and will allow you to concentrate on the task of covering the event.

Trash the Dress

Wedding dresses are seldom re-used, although an industry has evolved to clean dresses and to package them for storage. Increasingly, brides are opting for a trash the dress session weeks or months after the wedding. These sessions are conducted like a fashion or glamour shoot, contrasting the formal attire with the shooting environment, which might be anything from a construction site to a beach. Plan the session to progress toward the gritty, as the dress might be the worse for wear after the session. Two overriding rules for these sessions are:

  1. Keep it fun!
  2. Keep it safe!

Brides have drowned doing this in fast-flowing water. No matter how willing she might be, minimize the risk in your shoots.


If you offer video coverage of the day, use professional video equipment, a separate vdeographer whose responsibility it is to shoot the video, and have proper post-production facilities to edit the coverage. If you can discretely wire the bride and groom for sound, do so. It will improve the audio track considerably. Don't try to shoot stills and video using your camera. That might be fine for vacation shots of your family. It has no place in any professional coverage of an event, particularly a wedding.

Final thoughts

If you are just starting out, do not try to take on the responsibility of a wedding. At the very least, work as a second camera and assistant to an experienced mentor to help you to understand the flow of events, and the personal interactions necessary to accomplish the work.

While I have tried to outline what to expect in these articles, there is no substitute for first hand experience. Wedding photography is, perhaps, the most stressful type of photo work there is. You have to get it right the first time.

Good luck.






Landscape or scenic photography depicts expanses of land, water and sky, and is perhaps one of the most difficult and most misunderstood subjects.

For inspiration we have the classic work of Ansel Adams' Mural Project and the incredible colour of Malak Karsh among others. Although we can learn from the techniques of others, the one overriding requirement for successful landscape photography is the ability to allow yourself to see. If you are confronted with a dramatic landscape, think about how you can best convey that drama to the viewer, so they are as awed as you when they see your shot. Stop and determine where that drama comes from. Is it the geography, the light, the weather? Is it texture, pattern, colour or size? What do you have to capture and feature to show the viewer what you experienced. Open your heart to the feelings of the scene, then open your eyes to understand them.

When shooting a landscape, discard every rule that you 'should' follow, then come back to them one at a time. Use what will help your shot succeed, and have a good reason for using the rule. Keep it simple. A scene is what it is. You can't move an inconvenient hill, or change the colour of the sky. You work with what you are given, adjust your point of view and perspective to best advantage, and capture the best photograph that you possibly can.


Although many fine landscape shots have been made during the middle of the day, sunrise and sunset bathe the scene in a warm glow, and provide dramatic shadows to accentuate features and textures. Low light also gets in under overhangs to bring out features which would otherwise disappear into shadow when the sun is high in the sky. Many features are best photographed with backlighting, which is much easier when the sun is low. The next time you are out trying to capture fall colours when the leaves turn, let the sun shine through the leaves. They will glow with a life of their own.

On cloudy days, the sun may shine through breaks in the clouds, with patches of light crossing the scene in front of you. Set up your shot, and learn to be patient. Get the shot when a patch of light illuminates what you are shooting. Under these conditions, you may have seconds to react, or your may have to wait for hours. Don't walk away. Wait for it!

If the day is overcast, use the soft light to advantage for pastel colours and even a soft focused dreamy effect. Think about flower gardens and fairies, pleasant dreams and watercolours. Try to see the world with gentle eyes.

Learn to use whatever lighting conditions you encounter. Often scheduling does not allow you to return to a site, so do the best you can under the conditions you encounter. But keep a record of the sites that you would like to return to, and the type of lighting you would like to see. If you have the opportunity, go back and do it again.


Point of interest has less meaning in a scenic shot. Sometimes a discrete object or structure can provide a point of interest, but just as often it is diffuse and defined more as a confluence of lines and shapes. Often the rule of thirds works when positioning the horizon, emphasizing either the sky or the foreground. However the reflection of a mountain in a still lake would lend itself to a centered horizon, using the symmetry to best advantage.

Sometimes you can help the shot. I remember talking to Malak about his shot of Lake Louise in Banff, Alberta. The shot is a beautiful combination of cool colours, with the mountain in the background behind the lake. In the midst of all these blues and greens is a tiny red canoe placed precisely at the lower right 1/3 point. Malak explained to me that it was his canoe, and that his assistant took it out into the lake, and positioned it, with Malak guiding him using a walkie-talkie. If you can use something or someone in the scene to act as a point of interest, so much the better. Keep them subtle if you do use them. You want them to attract and hold the attention of the viewer, but you still want the scene to be the subject of the photograph, not the object or person.

Rules of composition are a guide to give you ideas about how to approach the shot. However, the ultimate guide is the image you are creating. Some of the best images I have seen break every rule in the book. On the other hand, some of the worst could be vastly improved by cropping them to conform to the rules. As a photographer, it is up to you to assess the image and your approach. Let the image guide you.


I once read a post on a reputable photography site, made by a reputable photographer, that stated you needed a 300 mm lens to do landscape photography. I was appalled! Looking at his photographs, I realized he spent most of his time in a dry climate. Where I live, high humidity will produce a distant haze that interferes with the clarity of telephoto shots.  Do not limit yourself.

Telephoto lenses magnify and make distant objects appear larger. It is much easier to fill the frame with a distant mountain. The magnified image will also foreshorten the apparent distance between objects. From a distance, a house one mile in front of the mountain will appear to be nestled at its base.

Wide angle lenses diminish and make close objects appear to be farther away. They are excellent for accentuating foreground, and vast expanses. If you take the time to get to the base of the mountain, you might find a house nestled at its base, and you may need a wide angle lens to get the whole mountain in the shot.

Use your perspective and adjust your camera position accordingly. Then choose your lens.


Besides the camera, your most important piece of equipment is a tripod. Your camera MUST be steady. I use a Manfrotto and have never regretted the price. Use a remote cable release, so you do not have to touch the camera to release the shutter.

Polarizing filters to eliminate specular reflections, and lens hoods to reduce lens flare will benefit any scenic shot, and indeed work well with any photo, not just scenics.

If you can use a vehicle to access the shooting site, portability is not a factor. However, if you have to walk, an adequate backpack, or even a little wagon you can pull behind you, will make it easier to get your equipment to where you need it. Think about where you are going, and what you will need when you get there.

Special Effects

Many photographers cringe when they hear this term, and rightly so in most cases.

However, your job with scenics is to convey a feeling to the viewer that you experienced when you encountered the original scene. If the effect will help you convey that feeling, go ahead and use it. Just don't let the effect overwhelm the scene. It should be additive, not a distraction.

Today the most talked about effect is HDR (High Dynamic Range). This is a process to take two or more shots of the same scene, exposed differently to capture detail in the highlights and in the shadows, and combining them using software to create a composite shot wih improved definition across the full range of illumination. Both the scene and the camera must be static. To get the images you need, your camera must be on a tripod, and multiple exposures are made at various shutter speeds. In some cases, the effect is subtle, and the images are spectacular. In some the effect is anything but subtle, and the images take on a surreal quality that screams at the viewer.

Other post-processing effects are available. Just remember that if you do not have a good photo to begin with, you will end up with a poor photo after post-processing. The give-away is if the effect becomes the subject.

In-camera effects used to be much more popular than they are now. Diffusers and CS filters (to produce a Crossed Star effect) are still available, but became overused in the past. Graduated colour filters are still used to shoot waterfront scenes for the lead-in to CSI Miami, but I have not seen them used anywhere else recently.

Putting It Together

When you see a scene, take the shot. Then move. Look around you for things that will help you. Is there a structure which will allow you to get higher? Are there holes you can shoot through to frame the scene with foreground? With every move and new idea, take the shot. Eventually your ideas will begin to gel, and your best shot will begin to materialize in your mind. As you become more accomplished, you will shoot less and think more.

Collect some tourist brochures for your area, and see if you can either duplicate, or improve on the scenics used on the brochures. Then try to capture other scenes around you. The more you shoot, the more you will understand.

Remember that award winning shots are few and far between. You should be striving for competence. Every shot should communicate a feeling to the viewer.

A quotation from Malak Karsh is inscribed on his tombstome: "Every time I leave my studio in search of new pictures I ask GOD to open my eyes so that I can see. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t discover some surprise that makes me wonder how I missed it before. That is part of the pleasure in life. To keep searching."



High Dynamic Range (HDR)

As photographers, we are in the business of creating images. We are often faced with difficult lighting, poor composition, limited time and no co-operation, yet we are expected to produce images that leap off the page and capture the attention of the viewer. In such cases we often reach into our bag of tricks. HDR is definitely one of those tools we can pull out to rescue our shoot.

There are many excellent tutorials on HDR, and I will not try to duplicate what they offer. Most are dedicated to showing you how to use HDR to enhance a photo, without the surreal quality that HDR can create. My goal here is to show you the extreme, and what that effect looks like.

To begin, you need a high contrast scene, and bracketed exposures. A tripod and cable release are essential. All camera settings must be manual, and the only setting to change is shutter speed in most cases. As you will be merging two exposures of the same photo, you will want focus and depth of field to remain constant. If your camera is capable of automatic exposure bracketing, it will create the exposures for you without your having to touch the camera and risk moving it between exposures.

These two photos were taken through the front window of my studio, using a Canon 135mm soft focus lens at f16 and maximum softening to enhance the blur in the background. Focus was on the window bars. The exposures were 1/4 sec for the inside and 1/125 sec for the outside.

Each image, as a CR file, was preprocessed to maximum saturation and vibrance, and imported into photoshop. They were combined using ImageMerge Exposure.

The combined image can then be manipulated to look like a watercolor drawing, or you can apply whatever post-processing effects you wish. The actual goal here is the effect, creating a usable image in the face of adversity.

If you shoot in camera raw format, HDR techniques can be used on a single frame. During a 'Fall Colours' shoot, I came across a ruined mill with a pair of archways where the old millrace ran. The ground beyond the archways was lit with the warm miday sun, while the ruined interior was bathed in soft, cold light from the northern sky. However there were healthy green sprigs emerging from the bed of yellow and red leaves. The whole scene looked to me like the eyes of time watching life reclaim its place in the ruins.

To show what my minds eye saw, I loaded the raw image into Photoshop twice, first reducing the exposure by one stop, and then increasing the exposure by one stop. I combined the images with PhotoMerge exposure, maximizing both highlight and shadow detail, and saturation.

This is HDR in its purest form.

After combining the layers ('flattening') the image into a background layer, I created a duplicate layer. As an increase in saturation was the goal, I did not remove colour, but rather I used Adjust Color to increase the saturation slightly, and Adjust Lighting to fine tune the highlight and shadow detail, as well as midtone contrast. This is what I saw.

Most HDR tutorials go into so much detail that the readers are discouraged. The basic steps are simple, and not every image will exhibit the artifacts common to HDR. The most important thing is to get started, and to understand what the tool can acheive. Eventually you will see images in front of you and you will shoot with the understanding that postprocessing tools will complete the image creation process. HDR is just one of those tools. Play and learn!

digital photography

Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB) and HDR

Your eye has an amazing sensitivity and range. This is because it is always moving, always sampling the scene. Your brain is equipped to blend all the little pieces of information into a composite image that encompasses the full range of detail from extreme highlight to extreme shadow.

However when you photograph that dramatic sunset, you find that the foreground becomes an uninteresting black silhouette. Your eye can see the details in the shadows, but the camera cannot capture them while correctly exposing the sky.

The camera can only work with a single exposure. To achieve a higher dynamic range in our photography, more closely approximating what we see, we need to mimic the role of the brain by sampling multiple exposures and combining them in post-processing.

The following photographs were taken using a tripod to keep the camera steady, and using the internal camera AEB (Automatic Exposure Bracketing) option.

The camera was set to Av mode (Aperture Priority) to allow the camera to vary the exposure using only the shutter speed. This eliminates any depth of focus artifacts which might arise. The exposures were bracketed by two stops.

The first shot maintains the dramatic sky, the second the midtone structure in the trees, and the third allows the foreground detail to come out. In the first shot, the trees are blending into the sky, and the overexposed sky in the last shot is spilling light around the branches, obscuring the tree structure.

Combining these three shots in Photoshop Elements is simple.

First, load the three shots into the editor. Select the three images in the Project Bin by holding the Ctrl key and clicking on each. Then go to the menu and select Edit>New>Photomerge Exposure.

In the Photomerge Exposure screen, choose Automatic and select Smart Blending. We set the Shadow Detail slider at 100 to bring out the grass in the foreground, and the highlight detail slider was at 78 to get the best detail in the sky. We boosted the saturation slightly to bring out the delicate pinks and oranges in the sky, and clicked on Done.

digital photography
exposure bracketing




When the weather is bad, and you are looking for something to inspire your creative process, smoke photography is a good way to get in the mood.

All you need is a camera, some incense, a black background, and an off-camera flash. This should be done in a large room that you can ventilate. As you burn the incense, smoke will accumulate. In addition to producing a haze in your photos, it is not healthy to keep breathing the smoke, even though it may smell nice. I ventilate the shooting space after each incense stick.

The air in the room should be still;  free of air currents.  Windows and doors should be closed, and furnace or A/C vents should be covered during your shoot. You want the smoke to create its own patterns. Even your breathing can push the smoke around and destroy your shooting opportunities. Learn to relax and be patient.

The set up I use is a small studio flash, using a black honeycomb grid to direct the light, and barn doors to keep the light where I want it. You can accomplish the same thing using a snoot ( a black paper or cardboard tube) to direct the light from your flash straight to the smoke. Make sure that the light does not spill onto your black background, and that it does not enter your lens directly.

Your camera should be set to manual focus and manual exposure. Use a high shutter speed which will still sync with the flash to eliminate any contribution from ambient room light. Your aperture should be between f8 and f22 for good depth of field. Use as low an ISO setting as you can to achieve good shots of the smoke. Determine the best exposure using a few test shots. (Very Important! Wait for the flash to completely recycle between your shots.)

Smoke photography is a bit like cloud gazing. Take lots of shots! Each one will be different. Then use your imagination to look for shapes, patterns, faces etc. Rotate the images. Flip them. Crop them. Mirror them.

The creative process begins when you put the images into your editing software.


You may also find other fine examples of smoke art on the Fine Arts America website using either of the following searches:

or you can find my work for sale under my profile