Mar 17

Camera Raw – Part 3: Adaptability

RAW photos have three other aspects that should be considered when choosing JPEG or RAW formats: One is future compatibility, the second is future processing enhancements, and the last is to factor in the quality of any changes you might make to your photos in post-processing.

The future of RAW

You would do well to consider one very important aspect of the RAW format: Will this format be supported and readable in the future?

Future Tense

RAW format is proprietary. This format is not a standard and cannot be read except by those programs which have special enhancements. Programs such as Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, as well as some other advanced image processing software have periodic updates that grant them the ability to read these formats. You will notice that when a new camera model is released, there is often a lag of several weeks to months before an update is available that enables these programs to read the RAW formats the new cameras produce. Until then you must either record in JPEG – or whatever other standard format the camera allows – or else use the software that comes with the camera to interpret their own proprietary RAW image format.

So what happens in 20 years? Or 50 years? Or 100 years? Will all of these special formats still be supported? Kodak just announced that they were getting out of the digital camera business. What happens to all of those Kodak digital camera RAW formats? How long can Adobe afford to maintain a library that includes Kodak RAW formats when the cameras are no longer being made? What about the Big Names – Canon or Nikon, for example? Surely their formats will always be able to be read, right? Maybe; Maybe not. Look at word processors. Can you find any program that still reads some of the early word processor documents, such as Lotus Notes, or PFS Write, or Brother Style Writer? These were very popular 20 years ago, but you can’t even read those files today without 20-year-old software. Think it couldn’t happen to Canon or Nikon? Nikon itself can’t read their own proprietary formats from some older cameras. How long can a third-party, such as Adobe, afford to support formats for cameras that weren’t manufactured for 20 years; or 50 years; or 100 years?

You want your photo format to last at least as long as you do, and preferably to readable far into the future. Using Camera RAW, you might not be able to open those files in 20 years.

So have we finally found the RAW killer? If I was going to archive my files in RAW format, then that might indeed be the death knell of RAW format, at least insofar as long-term storage was concerned.

Enter DNG

Fortunately, Adobe is providing a solution that hopefully will address this very issue. DNG (Digital NeGative) is an open-source format for storing RAW images. This means that you can convert your camera’s proprietary RAW image format into Adobe’s DNG format and your RAW image is now in a standardized format that is open-source, which means that the format is public information and so has an excellent chance of still being readable in the foreseeable future. This format has been adopted by Adobe (of course), and will hopefully catch on. As of the end of 2011, 12 camera manufacturers have supported DNG in-camera in 38 camera models since its introduction in 2004. Manufacturers such as Casio, Ricoh, Pentax, Leica, and Samsung have all made cameras that will store their raw images in DNG format right from the camera. Over 230 camera models so far can have their RAW formats converted into DNG format. This is a powerful endorsement of the DNG format and should address the forward compatibility issue. (I will examine the DNG format in more detail in a future article). Adobe Lightroom has a feature that can automatically perform this conversion when you initially import your photos, so the process is fairly painless and invisible.

The take-away here is that if you want to keep your camera images in a RAW format for years, if not decades, then give serious thought to converting them to DNG format. If not, then I will strongly urge you to keep your archived images in JPG or other standardized formats as proprietary RAW compatibility decades from now is a risk you do not want to take.

Technology Doesn’t Stand Still

Once you take your picture, are you done? Is that the best possible picture you can get? The tools keep changing and improving as time goes on. What was state-of-the art a few years ago may look somewhat shabby in the future. Image processing is changing and if you don’t have your best possible source data to work with, then your past images will never look better. For many people, this is not a problem. Many people will take their vacation photos, print them once or post them on a website and never look at them again. On the other hand, how many of us have had that one photo that we wish was better. It was almost good enough. If only it wasn’t so dark or the contrast wasn’t so high or the colors weren’t so washed out. Well, these photos may be salvageable using current technology. But it is possible that some future technology may be able to process them even better than we can today. RAW format will give you the option to revisit these photos in the future and perhaps turn a poor photo into a real keeper.

The original photo as taken in both RAW and JPEG formats

Here is a photo that I took of a Canadian Goose in flight. Because of the bright sunlight, the photo has very high contrast, which makes the shadows on the underside of the bird very dark and much of the detail is lost.

Changes in RAW processing over time (click to enlarge)

Using the RAW processing technology available to Adobe Lightroom in 2003 (left images), you can see that it is possible to pull more detail out of the photo. Although this photo is much better than the original, you can see in the bottom detail how a strong purple fringe appears. Even in the original photo – reduced as it is – you can see evidence of purple fringes around the wing tips.

In 2010 (center images) you can see much better detail in the shadows and in the bottom enlargement, you can see how the details around the beak and eyes is much more visible. But you can see an even stronger purple fringe around the wing tips. This is really an extreme case where the shadows were really pulled up tremendously. In most photos where shadow detail is only modestly enhanced, there is much less fringing visible.

Now, in the 2012 version of Lightroom (right images), you can easily see the improvement that this version has over the version that was just two years old. The detail in the eye and beak is much improved and, looking at the detail, the purple fringing has been tremendously diminished to just a purple shading around the edges, which is almost invisible in the wing tips.

 Post-Processing Needs

The final consideration is your post-processing needs. Apart from the improvements that may occur in the future, post-processing imposes its own needs which RAW can satisfy better than JPEG.

This shows the changes that occurs when you change the white balance (click to enlarge)

If you look at the color histograms, you will see the difference between a cool white balance setting, such as Tungsten vs a warm white balance setting, such as Shade. The cooler white balance compresses the red and  information to the left, while shifting the blue range somewhat less and to the right. You will also notice that the upper and lower ranges for the blue and green channels is pulling in much more information in the cooler setting (although it is compressed more) than in the warmer setting. The warmer settings tend to expand the color information over a broader area, but tends to drop out the highest and lowest information.

The result is that if you are using a JPEG image, you just don’t have all of the information to properly change the white balance. If you make the image warmer, then you have to expand a smaller range to fit a larger one and the mapping won’t be smooth. If you move from a warmer image to a cooler one, you are missing information that was discarded when the JPEG was first created. This is why you cannot effectively perform white balance changes as effectively from a JPEG image. In a RAW image, all of the original sensor data is still available, so the computer can re-balance the three color channels for a smooth distribution with no missing data either at the ends or in the middle.

Post processing files in RAW and JPEG

When you modify an image, as I did here, if your image is in RAW format (center), then you have access to all of the sensor data. If your image is in JPEG format (right) then it only has the information that was already in the image to start with. If you enlarge this image, you will be able to see a clear difference in tone smoothness and color in the RAW image compared to the JPEG image. Why is this? It’s because in pulling up the exposure in the dark areas, the RAW processing is pulling in information that was lost in the JPEG image.



How the histogram changes with strong editing.

As you can see by this image sequence, when brightening up dark areas in a RAW image, the lower end of the histogram is nice and smooth, which is indicative of the system pulling in low-light information from the sensor that was not originally included. Compare that to the histograms of the JPEG image. You can see on the left side of the histograms that the lower light levels are choppy rather than smooth. This is highlighted by looking at the far right column in the display. This is an overlay of the JPEG vs the RAW image histograms where you can see how much difference there is in the lower light information between the two. The small, thin area of difference over the entire histogram is simply due to different editing to make the images look good – the same settings just don’t work well with JPEG as they do with RAW and vice versa. However the large highlight difference on the left of the difference histogram column is due to the fact that RAW can pull in more valid data from the file, whereas the JPEG image just doesn’t have the information available and can’t produce as good looking change when brightening up dark areas.





Camera Profiles in Post

One last consideration for using RAW is that your image processing software (Adobe Lightroom and, thus, Adobe Camera Raw) may have profiles that are available from your camera manufacturer that can modify a RAW image to use a variety of camera profiles, each of which has a particular look to it. For my camera (the Canon 60D), I have been provided with five alternatives to the default Adobe Standard profile. These differences can be simulated using various settings, but they may contain characteristics that could be difficult or impossible to fully emulate just using the Lightroom settings.

  • Camera Faithful has rather less contrast than Adobe Standard
  • Camera Landscape is more saturated in the blues than normal
  • Camera Neutral is similar to Camera Faithful
  • Camera Portrait has warmer reds
  • Camera Standard is just a little brighter overall

All of these choices also have subtle differences in color that would be very difficult to reproduce using the image controls, as they draw from the entire gamut of image data that was recorded by the sensor. With a JPEG image, you might be able to specify an image style, similar to the profiles your camera manufacturer provides to process RAW files, in-camera. But if you are shooting JPEG, then those profiles are embedded in the image itself and cannot be changed.

The difference a change in profile can make

As this example image shows, the difference a simple profile change can make in a RAW image can be significant. No other modification was made except to change the camera profile. This adds additional flexibility to RAW that JPEG cannot match.

Raw IS Better (but is it worth it?)

Without a doubt, RAW is a better file format if you are going to edit your files, but is it really worth it? The RAW image shown above (in DNG format) was 16.6 MB in size, while the JPEG image was only 4.9 MB. The question you need to ask yourself is whether the benefits outweigh the size. Storage space is cheap and always getting cheaper, but even so, this is an enormous difference in size. The truth is, if you are shooting in a low-contrast environment, using the correct white balance, then there is probably little or no advantage to using RAW. Even in the fairly extreme cases shown in this review, JPEG performed surprisingly well. On the other hand, if you are shooting a relatively small number of photos, or shooting in a high-contrast environment, or plan on doing significant post-processing of light, then RAW may still be your best bet.


Dec 02

The Speed of Water

I have often wondered what is the best shutter speed to use when photographing moving water.

If I take a photo at a fast shutter speed, then the action of the water is frozen. This can be an interesting picture because we don’t perceive the water in this freeze-frame manner.

At the other end of the shutter speed spectrum is a much longer exposure – somewhere around 1-2 seconds. This results in a smooth, glassy, or even foggy appearance which, again, is very interesting because we don’t perceive water in this way either.

Somewhere between these two extremes there should be a shutter speed that gives the same impression of the flowing water that we normally perceive. I have read that when taking photos of sprinklers, that it looks most like rain at 1/60 sec. I wondered if this was the case also for running water. Let’s find out!

In this sequence I took a picture of flowing water at a variety of shutter speeds – enlarge the image to get a better idea of how the water appears. It appears to me that the most natural looking appearance occurs in the range of 1/45 to 1/90 sec with 1/60 being a good selection.

Of course, there will certainly be times when you want to capture the image that you can’t see with the naked eye.

In this case, I will leave you with the same scene, but two very different appearances. You may find that you prefer the more realistic view, but you may also enjoy one of these options also!



Nov 28

My Blogging Experience

I have been running this blog for two months now, so I thought I would pause and share my experience in setting up and running a blog so far.

Get a website

The first thing you need when setting up a blog is a website. This requires that you obtain a URL and a web host. Fortunately, I already had that. In fact, I have several URLs. Since I wanted this blog to actually be part of my commercial photographic site I had a bit of a problem: the software that I use for my commercial site will not allow me to put the blog directly on that site (at least, not yet). My solution was three-fold: 1) I used a site name that I obtained that is very close to my commercial site ( instead of; 2) I added a custom page to my commercial site called ‘blog’ that redirects the viewers to this page; and 3) I have this site set up to direct people back to my commercial site via the side-link in the panel to the right.

Get your blog software

Once you have your URL and web host, then you need software. My web host provided me with that in the form of WordPress – one of the most widely used blog frameworks on the web and one that is available without charge. WordPress is a blogging framework which allows people to install a theme to use. These themes allow a wide range of formats that allow you to change font types and colors, backgrounds, page layout and much more. There is a large selection of free themes to choose from with even more available for purchase. After trying out a variety of themes, I selected the one called “Graphene”. For the most part, I have been very happy with it.

Modify your basic theme

The next step is to modify the original theme. There are again a large selection of “gadgets” and plug-ins that can be installed that provide modifications to the basic theme. I initially installed three: One to add “breadcrumbing” to the top of each page. This shows the path taken from the home page to the current page and allows you to immediately jump to any of the prior pages with a single click. The next was adding the ability to insert a poll onto the page. The third provides a “shadowbox” form of image display that darkens the screen and expands an image that is clicked upon to full size.


Once the basic site layout has been addressed, then you need content! This is the ongoing process of blogging itself. Ideally, you should provide new content every day. My goal is to be able to provide one to three blogs each week, with the idea that I would like people to find it worthwhile to visit at least once a week. I must admit that this is proving to be more difficult than I expected. Part of that is that because this is a photo blog, I would like to have appropriate photos to go with each blog (this one is a notable exception). Secondly, one of my goals is to do real-life experiments as I analyze various photographic techniques or aspects and that just takes time. So if you are considering creating your own blog, think carefully about whether you have enough to say to warrant a blog and make it worth visiting.

Getting Viewers

Alright! You’ve got a URL. You’ve got your blogging software installed. You’ve customized your site. You’ve got content! You’re done, right? WRONG! You still don’t have anyone actually viewing all this wonderful stuff you’ve put up. You still need to publicize your site. This means letting your friends, associates, and everyone and anyone you can think of, know that you’ve got a blog site. Post it on your Facebook or Google+ page. Send out emails. Hopefully, if you’ve got good content the word will spread.

I have to admit that this is the part that I haven’t really figured out yet. Partly is that I’m not exactly sure how to best do this and partly because, being a fairly new blogger, I don’t have all that much content yet. I’m hoping that by making regular high-quality posts that people will find the material useful and spread the word. Time will tell.


The final aspect (so far) that I was not prepared for was spam. Apparently there are an incredible number of jerks out there in the world who have decided that by (automatically) making useless, inane comments to blogs all over the world they will rise in the search engine ratings or otherwise drive traffic to their sites. For the first month or so, this amounted to perhaps 3-5 spams a week and I was able to handle it without much difficulty.

Then the spammers found me.

In one day I went from receiving perhaps 1 spam a day to 50-60 spams a day, and currently I am receiving about 75 per day. I had only two options to deal with this: Either I turn comments off entirely or I automate the process. Ultimately I chose to add another plug-in to my blog called Akismet. This is a service that takes each comment and runs it against their spam database, automatically moving it to the spam folder if they deem it to be spam. I find that they catch over 99% of all the spam I receive. Making a donation is optional (unless you have a commercial site), but I chose to donate $24 per year. I believe it to be the best $2 per month I ever spent.


That just about covers my blogging experience so far. It has proven to be much easier to set up than I thought, but also harder to maintain than I expected. A viable alternative would be to set up a Google+ account. This provides the basic blogging experience without all the required setup. If you are inclined to try blogging for yourself, I urge you to try out Google+ first and see how that works for you. You may find that Google+ is all you need. You may also find out that blogging isn’t your thing.

Good luck!


Nov 20

Look Around!

Sometimes as photographers we fail to see the forest for the trees. We get so involved with a subject that we forget to look around and see if there are other targets of opportunity.

Fig 1 - Looking for reflections

Example: I was at Yosemite National Park. Arguably the most beautiful place on Earth. I’m there with a friend specifically to take pictures and it’s a grey, overcast day, but there are lots of reflections (Fig 1) that are drawing my attention. Since it’s late autumn, the animal life is at a minimum. We’ve seen a few stand-offish squirrels and some ravens and that’s about it. We are walking the length of the Merced River, looking for photo opportunities.

Fig 2 - Signs of wildlife!

Along come some ducks (Fig 2). We are so starved for animal life that we start watching these ducks swim around and then they land on the shore and start to hunt for food amongst the rocks. There are perhaps two males and six or eight females. We start stalking them, hoping to get a decent picture.

Fig 3 - The Evil Duck

I should mention that we had an encounter with a duck last year (Fig 3) that led us to postulate that ducks are inherently evil. We had come across a small pond in a marsh in which a single duck paddled around looking for food. It was near the shore on the far side of the pond from us, so we slowly circled around to get a closer picture. Of course, as we did this, the duck moved closer to where we were originally, so we circled back again, only to have the duck move to the far side again (there may be a Gary Larson reference in there, somewhere). So we split up and one of us started moving around the pond, figuring that at least one of us would get a good picture. So what does the duck do? It takes off and flies away, laughing at us “Qua, qua, qua, qua, qua…” Later that day we say a duck (the same one?) in the river and once again, every time we got almost close enough for a shot the duck would move tantalizingly close, but too far away. Thus the concept arose of the Evil Duck.


Fig 4 - Stalking the ducks

So here we are, stalking ducks again (Fig 4). They are walking amongst the river rocks eating… whatever it is that ducks find in these rocks to eat… and generally leading us down the river, which is the general direction we’ve been going anyhow. Now we are actually getting some pretty good pictures of these ducks, so we’re kind of happy about that.

Fig 5 - Bridge reflections

Every once in awhile I turn to look at the reflection of the bridge (Fig 5), which is now behind us, as these reflections are really great and make for great pictures. We’re doing this for perhaps ten minutes when my friend say, “Oh my goodness; Look behind us!” It is not until that point that I actually looked around to see what could be seen. So what have we both been missing as we chase down the Evil Ducks again?


Fig 6 - Half Dome in all its glory!

Let this be a lesson to you. No matter what you’re doing, no matter how interesting your subject, no matter how deeply involved you get in trying to get The Shot – every now and then pause and look around you. There are wonderful things going on that you might just be missing!


Nov 10

Copyrights and Photography

First, let me state that I am not a lawyer; I don’t even play one on TV. The information in this article is gleaned from various sources on the internet and, while I believe it to be accurate, you should do your own research.

Also, I am not going to cover all aspects of copyrights and photography, but rather just those that deal with people who want to take photos and perhaps provide those photos to others – either for free or for a price. Commercial photography, where you are taking pictures using models and intending to sell products, or licensing photos for commercial use is not going to be covered in-depth.


There are several issues that are raised when taking photographs for more than your own personal use:

  • The right of privacy
  • The right of publicity
  • Defamation
  • Property owner’s rights
  • Releases

The Right of Privacy

In the US, it is recognized that everyone has the right to privacy in their daily life and that harm, in the form of embarrassment, scorn, or loss of status can result if that privacy is violated. This has been interpreted to mean public disclosure of facts or images that are private and are not a legitimate concern of the public. However, the courts have long held that the First Amendment Rights of news reporting, research, education, criticism, public interest, and political, social, or economic commentary are generally exempt from the privacy rights, at least to an extent. Privacy violations that break the law – such as a peeping tom – have no such protection. The right of privacy also ceases when the person dies.

The Right of Publicity

In California – and many other states – a person, famous or not, has a “Right of Publicity” – the right to control how his or her identity can be exploited for commercial purposes. Many celebrities make more from endorsements than their actual jobs. Unlike the right of privacy, the right of publicity survives the death of the individual (think ‘Elvis’). This right extends to currently non-famous people. In California, a kindergarten teacher was awarded over $15 million when his image was used on a Taster’s Choice coffee label without his permission. This right extends to their voice, nickname, likeness, and even phrases or property that are closely associated with that person (e.g., William Shatner’s toupee, or Johnny Carson’s “Here’s Jonny!” line).


Defamation is when a person is portrayed falsely or maliciously in a way that damages their reputation. This may be done by implication, such as showing a person passing an abortion clinic, when they have never patronized one. You should note that the key here is falsely portraying them. The truth usually makes for an excellent defense.

Property Owner’s Rights

While property, per se, does not have a right to privacy or publicity, people and corporations who may be closely associated with buildings, statues, monuments, costumes,  etc. do have rights and may claim harm (e.g., financial loss) through the results of your photography. It is worth noting that public property has no such rights, although you might run into difficulties trying to take the picture due to security issues. Also, if there is a work of art that in attached to or adjacent to the property, then you might run into a copyright issue with the artwork (such as a mural, painting, or statue). Some examples which could cause issues would include:

  • Automobile logos
  • Disney characters (drawn or costumes)
  • The Hollywood sign
  • Amusement parks (e.g., Disneyland, Busch Gardens, Universal Studios)
  • Barbie dolls
  • Oscar, Emmy or Grammy awards
  • Eiffel Tower at night (the lighting design is copyrighted)
  • Olympic athletes, logo, or torch
  • Clowns (their costumes are trademarked or copyrighted)


A release is a signed document that grants the photographer the use of the image (either person or property) and protects you from future lawsuits for defamation or invasion of privacy. The uses to which the photo may be put should be clearly spelled out.  In this digital age, such a release should also grant permission for the digital manipulation of the image. A release is not necessary if you are not using the photo for commercial purposes. You also do not need a release for artistic purposes, unless the photo would somehow defame the subject, assuming the subject is of legal age. You need a release if the photo will be used for marketing or advertising where the subject implies an endorsement of the product.

Candid photos fall under several broad categories:

Fine Art

Exhibiting and selling your images as Fine Art does not require a release. Most non-commercial, non-journalistic photography would fall into this category. Your picture may be considered fine art due to your ‘artistry’ in capturing the image. However, if you create posters to advertise your work, then that is considered to be commercial use and does require a release.

Editorial Use

Any photo taken in a public place or is of public interest (i.e., ‘news’) does not require a release (there is no expectation of privacy). No release is required if you sell the images for journalistic, illustrative, or editorial use. Use in a corporate magazine would require a release since it could be considered as advertising, but photos of a wedding would usually be considered journalistic use. You should be cautious about photos that portray or imply a negative connotation for the subject. Although protected, it could generate a lawsuit that you might win at great cost.

Commercial Use

Anything that involves commercial use or endorsement requires a release. This includes creating flyers or displaying images in your place of business which effectively advertises your work. It is interesting to note that you can post images on your website without a release.

 How bad could it be?

According to an article on Nov 22, 1999 in the New York Observer, photographer Peter Beard was threatened with a lawsuit over a photo he took over a decade earlier. In 1987, he took a picture of a 17-year-old girl (not of legal age) near Lake Rudolph in Kenya. By 1997, this girl had moved to Los Angeles where she was waiting tables and looking for modelling work. A friend in New York called and told her of the photo that was on display in a SoHo gallery, selling for thousands of dollars. She hired a lawyer and demanded $50,000 plus 15% of the photo sales. Since the lawsuit was resolved out of court, there is no information on how it actually turned out. This is a case where the image could be considered Fine Art, but involved a minor where no release was obtained. Furthermore, whether the lawsuit had merit or not, it probably would not have been brought if the image was being sold for $20 instead of several thousands of dollars.

A Checklist for Requiring a Release

According to the American Society of Media Photographers, here is a checklist for when you require a model release (note that virtually the same requirements apply to private venues):

  • Can you identify the subject as a unique person? If a person is not the focus of the image, e.g., a person in a crowd, then they are usually not considered to be a subject, but if the photo is used as an advertisement, then you should have a release for every recognizable person.
    No – No release is required.
    Yes – Continue to the next question.
  • Is the photograph going to be used in an advertisement? Does the photo portray the subject as advocating or expressing an opinion regarding any product, group, or idea? E.g. a photo of someone at a religious site might be construed as their belonging or advocating that religion.
    Yes – A release is required.
    No – Continue to the next question
  • Is the photo going to be used for a commercial business purpose, such as a brochure, calendar, poster, cereal box, etc.?
    Yes – A release is required.
    No – No release is required

It should be noted that the sale of a photo (i.e., receiving money for a photograph) is never an issue as to whether a release is required or not. The person who publishes the photo (in a book, magazine, online, etc.) for public viewing is the person who needs a release if the publication implies any kind of endorsement or association by the subject. Also note that there is no differentiation between adults or minors (except that minors need their parent or guardian to legally sign the consent form).

General Guidelines

  • If you are in a public place, then anything you take a picture of is legal as there is no expectation of privacy (excluding situations where people have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a changing room, or when they are shielded from public view). This also applies to any private venue where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, such as an amusement park, zoo, golf course, church or country club.
  • If the photo does not portray the person as endorsing any recognizable product, religion, or business or idea (such as attending  a gay pride parade or walking by an abortion clinic), and so long as the photo is not used in such a way or with any text that makes such implication, then you don’t need a release.
  • If the photo could possibly harm any subject – either financially or in reputation – then you should get a release.
  • If the photo is going to be used in any commercial enterprise, e.g., on a coffee mug, cereal box, calendar, brochure, poster, etc., to the general public, then you should have a release. Sales of event photos or videos to the participants is not considered to be the general public, but putting the photos or video up for sale on Amazon is.
  • The extent to which a copyrighted work (such as a painting or sculpture) is depicted in your photo determines whether you need a release. If your photo “harm” the copyright holder by depriving them of a potential sale due to your photo, then you should have a release.
  • People who are part of a scene do not need to sign a release, even if they are recognizable, and even if the use is commercial (advertising or brochures) unless they appear to be advocates or sponsors. For example, a wide-angle shot of people dining (unstaged) with no particular emphasis on anyone does not require any release, even for commercial use.
  • The display of photos as a portfolio (e.g., photographer’s website) is not considered to be an advertisement or commercial use.
  • If the number of sales is small and the amount of money involved is not huge, then it is not usually worth the enormous expense of a lawsuit. At the worst, you might get a “cease and desist” order.
  • Nobody has the right to take away your equipment or force you to erase your photos without a court order.
  • Only an attorney who is familiar with the laws in your state can give you a reliable opinion. Web pages (including this one) may obtain information that does not apply in your state or is inaccurate or out of date.
  • Selling your photo to an individual is almost always legal. It is what they do with that photo that might require a release.
  • If you do get a signed release, you must offer some sort of compensation for the contract to be binding. A cheap an easy thing to do would be to send them a copy of the photo.
  • If you get a release, you must specify to what purpose the photo can be put. A release for publication in a newspaper does not give you a release to use the photo in an advertising brochure.
  • Never express an opinion on whether or not someone needs a release to publish a photo. You do not want to lose a sale by giving wrong advice, nor do you want someone to be able to come back to you for misrepresenting the need for a release.
  • Ironically, the more orchestrated a photo is, the more likely you are to need a release. If a person is acting in their own free will (i.e., not orchestrated) in a public setting then their actions are public and considered to be representative of themselves and so have no right of privacy. If they are directed to pose or act in some manner, then they are no longer behaving naturally and their orchestrated image may be subject to an interpretation that is not an accurate representation of the individual. In other words, if you tell them what to do then they cannot be held responsible for how they appear. In this case you are more likely to need a release.

Key Points

The following key points should be considered regarding privacy and when a release is required.

  • Generally, what can be seen from public view can be photographed. Consent is required when the subject has a reasonable expectation of privacy.
  • Avoid recognizable people when illustrating negative stories (even in public). For this you should always have a release (assuming they would grant one).
  • When required, consent must be obtained from the authorized person (principal party, owner, or copyright holder) who is of legal age.
  • Granted consent must be specific. Consent for entry to a building is not the same as consent to photograph.
  • Consent for access from police does not give general consent (i.e., photographing a copyrighted work in a disaster area)
  • Public figures and those who are involved in events of public interest have less right to privacy than private individuals.
  • Hidden cameras may involve criminal prosecution.
  • Just taking a photo (without publishing it) may be considered a violation of privacy if the subject has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the context (a secluded area, dressing rooms, etc.).
  • Privacy laws vary greatly from state to state.


If you want to sell a photo, get a release for:

  • Any photo used for commercial purposes – including ads, flyers, labels, marketing, or endorsements
  • Any photo that includes a copyrighted work of art – murals, paintings, statues, designs
  • Any photo taken in a private location, including theme parks and other pay-for-entry private venues

No release necessary for:

  • Photos taken legally in a public place or of public property
  • Fine Art, Educational, Editorial, Journalistic, or other photos of public interest. For many photographers, this is the majority of their work. If you take photos of a public event you can reasonably expect to sell those photos, except for commercial purposes as noted.

To be safe, get a release for:

  • Photos in private venues. If you are taking photos of a private event, it might be wise to get a release for any photos taken at that event. This includes churches, hotels, and private meeting halls.
  • Any photo that you believe might generate significant income.

A couple of things to keep in mind are:

  1. Anyone can file a lawsuit over anything. You can be sued because someone doesn’t like your hair color. Having a release does not guarantee that you won’t get sued. It only guarantees that you will win, assuming the release covers the subject and use in question.
  2. It is expensive to sue. If you are below the radar then you are probably pretty safe. You probably don’t have to worry about an incidental copyrighted aspect of your image (e.g., MacDonald’s arches in the background). Also, if you aren’t making a ton of money from the image it probably isn’t worth the expense to sue you. In such cases you might receive a “cease and desist” order at the most.


  • A photograph of a person was taken without their knowledge in a public place and exhibited as 4-by-5-foot prints. As art, this is legal.
  • Posting photos on a website for the purpose of selling or licensing does not require a release, so long as you don’t portray the person as being associated with you or advocating your business.
  • Selling a photo to a newspaper does not require a release. The newspaper may require the release in order to publish the photo.
  • A photo of two people clinking glasses and looking at the camera requires a release to use the image commercially. A wide-angle shot of many diners eating does not require any release for commercial use.

 Useful Web Sites:

These sites are major sources of information:

Nov 05

Mind Your Backgrounds

Here’s a quick tip on composition: Before pressing that shutter, quickly scan the background for distractions!


Fig 1 - Unmodified photo - note the difficulty in separating the pumpkin top from the flowers in the background.

Here was a photo I took of my daughter carving a pumpkin (Fig 1). I actually planned the shot to capture the moment when the top of the pumpkin was removed, since there is usually lots of hanging fibers and stuff that I though would make for an interesting picture. As you can see, I failed to take into account the background, which had a flower arrangement that was just about the same color as the pumpkin! It made it very hard to see the part of the shot that I wanted to capture: the hanging fibers and seeds and stuff. If I had just moved the flowers it would have made for a much better picture. In fact, if I had positioned the pumpkin so that there was no distracting background – such as the chair back – it would have made for a clearer photo.

Fig 2 - Retouched photo to separate the background from the subject

As it was, I used the Brush Tool in Lightroom to reduce the saturation and brightness and decrease the sharpness and contrast of the flowers, and sharpen and add contrast to the inside of the pumpkin (Fig 2). I also reduced the Luminance of the orange color so it wasn’t so intense. The shot was not as good as it could have been, but it made the subject stand out more from the background.

So the next time you take a picture, especially if you have a few moments to think about it, scan the background for distracting elements such as bright or similar colors, shapes and general clutter. You will be rewarded with a clearer, more effective picture.

Oct 30

Camera Raw – Part 2: Outdoor photography

The proponents of camera raw point to the information that is recorded in the camera raw format, claiming that 14- or 16-bits of information in the sensor should allow much more flexibility in post-processing than the mere 8-bits of information per pixel in a JPEG image. On the surface, it would appear that a camera raw image should have 3-4 stops of additional lighting information that is discarded when the 8-bit JPEG is created. If this is so, then it should be possible to recreate the same image if the exposure is within 3 or 4 stops of a proper exposure. Today I’m going to put this assertion to the test.

All images shown here were captured using RAW+JPEG simultaneously. The JPEG images were saved at the highest possible quality. The pictures were all taken hand-held, so there may be slight perspective or focus differences between them that should be ignored for this comparison.

Exposure Correction

Fig 1 - Normal exposure. Camera raw on the left vs JPEG on the right

In this experiment, I took this picture with proper exposure settings (Fig 1). To my eye, the raw image seems a little richer in color and the gradations in tone seem somewhat smoother, but both exposures are good and, if there were no side-by-side comparison, either would certainly be acceptable. It is interesting to note that to get these two images to appear nearly identical, I had to boost the Fill Light on the raw image by 37.






Fig 2 - Camera raw images corrected for exposure

In this next series of photos (Fig 2) – all in camera raw format – I reduced the exposure compensation in the camera to force an underexposed image. Afterwards, I went into Lightroom and boosted the exposure by the same amount. If the original sensor information is retained with an additional 3 stops of exposure, then I should be able to pull each of these underexposures up to reproduce the baseline image. Interestingly, this wasn’t the case. The more underexposed the image was, the more I had to reduce the contrast to retain the same light/dark balance. The Fill Light parameter stayed about the same until I got the the most underexposed image, where I had to increase it to 47 – although that was probably because I had maximized the amount of contrast reduction that Lightroom allowed. You will also notice that the colors become more washed out as the photo was increasingly underexposed. There was no compensation that I was able to apply in Lightroom that would recapture the richness of color at a 3-stop underexposure that the original held.

Fig 3 - Underexposed JPEG images corrected for exposure

Looking at the same series of photos, but this time in JPEG format (Fig 3). In this series I also had to compensate by reducing the contrast the more the image was underexposed, but not as much as in the raw images. Also, the richness of the colors did not alter as much. It is very interesting to note that the properly exposed JPEG image actually got the colors wrong (white balance settings did not change). The properly exposed image appears much more yellow than the underexposed images, and the actual color was indeed closer to the underexposed images than the properly exposed one.

Fig 4 - Camera raw images corrected for exposure

Now, looking at the overexposures (Fig 4). This series of camera raw images starts with the baseline image on the left and goes to a maximum of 3-stops of overexposure. As I reduced the exposure back to normal, I had to decrease the Fill Light and increase the Brightness to compensate. The first stop of overexposure can be compensated for almost completely. There is very little difference between the colors in the two images. By the second stop of overexposure though, you can clearly see some color changes although the Recovery slider helped quite a bit, and by the third stop the highlights are completely blown out and nothing could bring them back.

Fig 5 - JPEG images corrected for exposure

In the JPEG images (Fig 5), no consistent control seemed to come into play as the images were more and more overexposed. In some I had to increase the brightness; in others, I had to reduce the contrast, in others I had to reduce both brightness and contrast. The result was that the first stop of overexposure could be readily compensated for. In fact, the colors looked better. Go figure. By the second stop of overexposure, the colors had clearly changed for the worse, and the third stop of overexposure was completely blown out beyond repair.

So, it is clear that camera raw is no protection against over- or under-exposure. Now let’s compare how camera raw compares to the equivalent JPEG images.

Fig 6 - Underexposed raw images on top compared to JPEG on the bottom

We’ve already seen how the baseline images are well exposed, although I feel that the camera raw image produced the better color and tone, it wasn’t a big difference. Here we can see the lower exposures with the camera raw on top and the JPEG equivalents on the bottom (Fig 6). I’m seeing a richness of color in the raw images that is missing in the JPEG images. Apart from that, it appears that every one of these was able to be corrected using Lightroom back to a proper exposure, albeit with some loss of vibrancy across the board.








Fig 7 - Overexposed camera raw on top vs JPEG on the bottom

Now, on to the corrected overexposed images (Fig 7). I’m seeing a lot more difference here. At one stop of overexposure, there is little difference in the corrected images, but when you get up to 2-stops of overexposure, the difference is significant, and neither image is really salvageable when you get to 3-stops of overexposure.

Fig 8 - 3-stop overexposed images converted to black and white

Now here’s something interesting: when I converted both of the maximum overexposed images to Black & White (Fig 8.), the JPEG image converted into a better looking image. The blown-out areas could be pulled back so that they were closer to the JPEG image, but it the areas that were blown-out in the JPEG image were more equally blown-out, whereas appears that there was some additional headroom in the raw image. Lightroom could correct the raw image so that it looked similar to the JPEG image by pulling down the yellows, oranges, and greens(!).


There’s one more aspect that I need to share with you in doing this experiment, and that is the issue of noise.

Fig 9 - Noise in camera raw on top vs JPEG on the bottom

Noise typically becomes an issue when you are boosting the information that comes from the sensor. This is what ISO does – it amplifies the signal coming from the image sensor much like turning up the volume on the radio. On a radio, increasing the volume also increases the static or noise that is underlying the sound. You don’t really notice it at all until it is loud enough to hear. In much the same way ISO – and boosting the exposure setting in Lightroom – does the same thing for images. Suddenly, the minute variations due to noise in the sensor system are made more prominent and you can see them as a grainy texture in the photograph. This can be addressed in Lightroom through their noise reduction filters, but it is interesting to note that there is much more noise in the camera raw images than in the JPEG images that were boosted by the same amount (Fig 9). Once again, I think this is due to the camera raw having more information to pull from, but it is nowhere near the amount that the raw proponents would have you believe.


Based on this analysis, I once again find in favor of camera raw, but the advantage is not a big one. In most cases I find that JPEG images can be corrected almost as much as camera raw, although admittedly with some loss of color richness. Camera raw seems to handle overexposure better than JPEG, but only to a certain extent. Looking at these images side-by-side makes it easier to see the differences, but in many, if not most, cases these differences are not large enough to make a significant difference. Keep in mind that people won’t have these two views to compare against; they will only have your single image and that image will likely be just as compelling, just as good whether you use JPEG or camera raw. Now, that being said, I will also add that it appears that camera raw does a better job in retaining tone and color than JPEG does. For this reason, if I wanted to have the best possible image, I would use camera raw.





Fig 10 - Comparison of image quality with camera raw on the left, and JPEG on the right

In this final comparison, I have an image of some pyracantha berries (Fig 10). Again, these images both resulted from a single click of the camera. I can’t say that I understand the reason that camera raw processes variations in tone better than JPEG, but this image illustrates the difference clearly. Both of these images were post-processed in Lightroom, but which one holds more appeal? I’ll leave the answer to the viewer for now.



Oct 23

Camera Raw – Part 1: Indoor photography

In this series I will examine the use of camera raw as a storage format choice. This first article will discuss camera raw in general, and then examine the use of camera raw format in low-light conditions, such as indoor photography, both with and without flash.

What is Camera Raw?

Camera raw is a generic term for the storage of images from a camera or scanner that has minimal processing. All the information from the image sensor is put into the image file for processing at a later time by image processing software. This is compared to a JPEG or TIFF image file in which the camera – or some other processing software – has taken all available information from the sensor, processed it in some way and stored it in a standard image format. Within a camera, standard image processing includes white balance, contrast, noise reduction, and sharpening. All of this occurs in a mostly transparent, if not invisible, process to the user. Camera raw files are sometimes called digital negatives because they store all of the information possible, but are not viewable directly until they have been processed in some way.


Fig 1 - Intensity information is received from millions of positions on the camera's sensor.

A camera sensor receives image information very differently than is stored in a digital photograph. A camera sensor is actually millions of individual sensors, each one capably of reporting how much light it receives during the exposure (Fig 1)

Fig 2 - A Bayer pattern of red, green, and blue filters

To capture a color image, each sensor has a red, green, or blue filter (other filter colors are possible, but these are the most common) and so the amount of red light is received by one sensor, the amount of green light by another, and the amount of blue light by still another (Fig 2). The pattern contains twice as many green sensors as red or blue because our eyes are most sensitive to the green spectrum.


Fig 3 - Color intensity is recorded through the Bayer filter

These red, green, and blue sensors are not all in the same place! This means that the actual color reading for any given pixel is only accurate for one of the three color components; the other two are interpolated from the pixel’s nearest neighbors (Fig 3). When the camera saves an image, it has to calculate the red, green, and blue value for every pixel in the image based on the raw information that was received by the sensor.

Fig 4 - The finished image in full color

The red, green, and blue values that are stored for any given pixel in a finished image range from 0-255 (Fig 4). The actual measurement from each pixel sensor, however, might range from 0-16383 or even more in a modern DSLR. This might seem like a huge difference, but because light is perceived in an exponential manner, this should translate into about a 6-stop additional range (a camera typically captures about 6 stops of light). That should be about 50% more room on the bright and dark ends of the dynamic range to draw from as the software creates the final image. That’s the theory anyway. We’ll look at the reality in a later article.

White Balance

Another major operation that occurs in-camera for JPEGs is white balance. Our brains are terrific at interpreting a variety of lighting conditions and perceiving things in their true color. Reds still look red, although they might be a bit purple in some light, greens still look green, although some light might make them appear more muddy. The light in the middle of the day is quite warm and is more reddish than light from a regular light bulb that is much more blue. Yet, due to the marvelous adaptability of our brains, we perceive things in both lighting conditions as being a consistent color. The camera doesn’t have the luxury of having the viewer correctly translate changing color conditions – it needs to interpret the color in the given lighting conditions and lock it down as an absolute value, for ever and ever. To do this it takes the information about the lighting – usually from the user’s white balance setting – and shifts the color spectrum appropriately.

In addition, the camera also applies a contrast profile to the image. This may make the light colors a bit lighter, and the dark colors a bit darker.

Once all these operations are done, the camera discards the ‘extra’ information from the sensor and writes out the JPEG file with each pixel represented by three numbers – red, green, and blue – each having a value of 0-255. The camera may also perform noise reduction and sharpening on the image, which takes the image further from the source information, and the original data is lost forever.

This isn’t as bleak as it seems. Actually the camera does a pretty darn good job of capturing the image. But if you are trying to make the best image possible – whether you are presenting yourself as a professional or just want to capture the best possible image – then camera raw may be the way to go.

Camera raw saves all of the information that was available from the sensor so that it can be interpreted at a later time. Software such as Adobe Lightroom can read most camera raw formats and make modifications based on the entire camera raw data, including data that would normally have been discarded if a JPEG file had been produced. This allows the software to shift the exposure and white balance, compress the lighting information and perform other operations that would not be available in a JPEG file that didn’t have all of this extra data.

So what does this mean in real life? How does camera raw differ in the final image?

Fixing White Balance

To do these comparisons I took a still-life photograph under incandescent lighting. The lighting was a little dimmer than normal household light at a dinner table, but not by much. The camera was mounted on a tripod, the focus was fixed on the figure in the foreground, and the camera was in Av (Aperture Priority) mode at f/4. Since my camera supports it, I chose Automatic ISO mode for all images. I took all photos in combined RAW+JPEG format, so the same image that was saved as a camera raw file was also saved as a JPEG image. Before processing I modified the raw images by applying the standard Canon camera calibration to the photo. This is another thing that is automatically done by the camera when it saves a JPEG image. This simply adjusts the color balance a bit so that it should match the JPEG image more closely.

Fig. 5a - Post-processing an incorrect white balance using camera raw. 1/15 sec. @ f/4, ISO 3200

The first photo was taken with the white balance set to Shade (6000K) – which is where I usually set and forget my white balance (of course I also shoot only raw, so it doesn’t matter much – as you will soon see). Because the image is actually illuminated with a cooler incandescent light, the image appears much warmer than it did to my eyes. The image on the far left was camera raw, then I applied the standard camera calibration for my camera, which is supposed to bring the color inline with what how the camera processes JPEG images in the camera (note: it doesn’t match exactly, but it gets pretty close). The third image was the calibrated raw photo after applying the Tungsten (2850K) white balance to it in Lightroom. The final photo was with a custom (2400K) white balance in Lightroom obtained by sampling the paper surface on the left side of the table. This tells the software what grey, i.e., colorless, should look like and removes any color cast from the lighting (Fig 5a).

Fig 5b - Post-processing incorrect white balance using a JPEG image.

The second series of photos was based on the same image stored as a JPEG. The first image was the original, straight from the camera. The second was using the custom white balance setting in Lightroom and sampling on the paper, and the third was obtained by sampling the white balance on the figure’s blouse (which should be a cream color) and then warming the white balance somewhat to make the blouse more cream colored. For comparison, the fourth let Lightroom perform an Auto white balance adjustment on the photo (Fig 5b).

Fig 5c - The final result when fixing an incorrect white balance in raw (left) and with a JPEG (right)

Compared side-by-side, here is the camera raw difference (Fig 5c). Remember, these were the exact same image. The camera raw image has much better color range, finer lighting and contrast details. Hands down, it can definitively be said that if you use the wrong white balance indoors, you will get a huge benefit from shooting in raw mode.







In this next comparison, I took the same photo with all the same settings, except that white balance was set to Tungsten (3200K). Under incandescent light, this is the proper white balance setting when not using a flash.

Fig 6a - Raw (left) and JPEG (right) images with a correct Tungsten White Balance setting

These are the photos as they came out of the camera after applying a camera calibration to the raw photo (Fig 6a).  I will spare you the intermediate steps, but again I converted the raw image by sampling the white balance point (2350K) and did the same with the JPEG file (sampling on the paper, as the white balance was much closer to the actual image this time).






Fig 6b - The final result with a proper white balance for raw (left) and JPEG (right)

The result is much closer, but again you can see that the RAW photo has better tone throughout and the colors are actually closer to those that I perceived (Fig 6b).








In the next two sets of photos, I performed the same experiment, but using the on-camera flash. The white balance was first set to Shade (6100K). This first set shows the photos as they came out of the camera (Fig 7a). Since the Shade (6100K) setting is  close to the Flash (5500K) setting, you would expect these pictures to look pretty good with the flash, if perhaps a bit warm – which they do. Because I was using my Auto ISO setting, the ISO values for the flash photos was 400.

Fig 7a - A close white balance setting before processing of raw (left) and JPEG (right) files

Performing a custom white balance adjustment on both of these (based on the inside of the candle holder on the right), they both cool down, but even so the raw photo comes across with richer colors and nicer tone throughout (Fig 7b).

Fig 7b - After processing with a good starting white balance - raw (left) and JPEG (right) images but even so the raw photo comes across with richer colors and nicer tone throughout (Fig 7b).

Fig 8a - An incorrect white balance with a flash before processing raw (left) and JPEG (right) images
















In this last set, the on-camera flash was used, but the white balance was set to Tungsten, which is considerably cooler (3200K) than the Flash white balance (5500K). This results in a cooler photo (Fig 8a).







Fig 8b - White balance correction for a flash image with an incorrect white balance for raw (left) and JPEG (right) images

After adjustment, again the raw image appears richer with nicer tones across the scene (Fig 8b).

Now it is worth pointing out that insofar as taking either JPEG or camera raw when you are using the correct white balance setting goes, there really isn’t that much difference between the photos. If you are only looking at the JPEG photo, then it can appear to be quite nice and, with perhaps a bit of added contrast and saturation, could be nearly as good as the raw image. BUT, if you happen to use the wrong white balance, then camera raw will be able to give you a great image, whereas JPEG will fail.





RAW vs JPEG at High ISO (Noise)

I’m going to explore one last thing. How does camera raw compare with JPEG when you are taking your camera to the limits of its ISO ability? To test this I set my camera to its highest ISO setting – 12800 – and took a picture using the correct white balance setting (Tungsten) without any flash at all. The images actually come out amazingly well, considering how high the ISO is. Looking at the detail tells a little different story though.

Fig 9a - High ISO noise before processing raw (left) and JPEG (right) images at 100% (click to enlarge)

Zooming into the detail of both images, you can see that the JPEG image definitely has some noise reduction built into it. Unfortunately, the result is uneven and a little blotchy. By comparison, the raw image has quite a lot of noise, but is much smoother (Fig 9a).













Fig 9b - Comparison of noise reduction at high ISO for raw (left) and JPEG (right) images at 100% (click to enlarge)




After applying the best noise reduction to both images I could, this is the final result. To get rid of the JPEG blotchiness I had to increase the noise reduction to the point where some of the detail was also getting lost. The camera raw side is still showing a tiny bit of graininess, but the detail is still visible (Fig 9b).















Fig 9c - Full-size images taken at high ISO in raw (left) and JPEG (right) format

So how do the images look full size? Judge for yourself. In my opinion, both images are completely satisfactory (Fig 9c).









If I was sure I would be using the white balance as set by the camera then there is no compelling reason to use camera raw. However, in light of the enhanced tonal quality and flexibility of camera raw, I would still choose camera raw if I wanted to create the best possible image.



Oct 19

Education on the Web!

I’d like to pass along a few of the web sites that I find to be interesting and helpful. These are my favorite sites that provide information and education on photography, Photoshop/Lightroom, or both.


The first site is D-Town TV. This is a weekly webcast that deals with photography tips, mostly for DSLR shooters. One of their current hosts, Larry Becker, gives you tips on inexpensive camera accessories, such as how to use a pool noodle for camera bag padding or how to create a cheap monopod from some string and a screw. You can find all sorts of great (and cheap!) ideas on his web site Larry’s Cheap Shots.  They also often have segments on using flash or setting up studio lighting. On some shows they have guests to provide photographic tips for both amateurs and professionals.

The next site I really like is The Grid. This is a weekly talk show about photographic topics. It is broadcast live and they read and respond to a live blog and also twitter tweets. The show is then archived the next day, so you don’t have to watch live and can catch-up on past shows. Previous episodes have addressed topics such as copyrights, people who give their photography away for free (e.g., free wedding shoots), and much more.

Another site that I visit periodically is Photoshop User TV.  This is another weekly webcast that deals mostly with Adobe’s Photoshop and Lightroom software. This is a show that has been ongoing for more than five years! It is hosted by the Photoshop Guys – Scott Kelby, Matt Kloskowski, and Dave Cross. These guys are professional Photoshop instructors and Scott Kelby has the largest Photoshop training organization in the world.


There are a couple of site that I would also recommend if you don’t mind paying a small fee.

One site is This site has hundreds of video training on a wide range of technical subjects. There are some on photography (not too many), and many on Photoshop and Lightroom. There are also training courses on programming languages, HTML, making web pages, using iphones, and much more. You can see their courses and sample some of the early chapters for free. It runs $25/month for unlimited access.

The other site I recommend is Kelby This has a ton of training videos on Photoshop, Lightroom, and photography in general. This site features some of the best-known names in the industry: Moose Peterson, Jay Maisel, Joe McNally, David Zizer and many others. This is available for free for 24 hours or $25/month for unlimited access.

Both of these sites also offer yearly subscriptions.


There are several blogs that are worthwhile checking on a regular basis. These people are really good at what they do and they post on a regular basis.

The first is, of course, Scott Kelby. This is the guy who runs most of the other recommended sites here. He has amassed a huge photographic training organization and is probably the leader in photographic and photo editing software training, both online and through seminars.

Next, check out the other Photoshop Guys: Dave Cross, a Lightroom Killer Tips site by Matt Kloskowski, and R.C. Concepcion.

You can also find good information from online sites by Moose Peterson for wildlife photography, David Zizer for wedding photography, Joe McNally for lighting and flash photography, and Trey Ratcliff for Travel photography. Each of them are absolutely terrific at what they do and as long as they are willing to share their information you should take advantage of the expertise they are willing to share.

You can also follow many of these people on Twitter or Facebook or Google+ – or all of them!


There are a ton of online resources to help out people interested in photography. Most, if not all of the people that I’ve mentioned are authors and I may periodically post a review of one of their books.

There is a fairly new site that is worth checking out if you want to see outstanding photos. Check out This site contains some of the best photography from amateurs and professionals all in one place. Think carefully before you post your photos here because you will be up against some rock-hard competition. This is not Flickr and the ratings of the photos can be harsh!

Check out these site on a regular basis and try out some of the things that they are showing you and I guarantee that your photography will improve, regardless of how good your already are!


Oct 13

Understanding Exposure – part 1 – Introduction

Under-exposed, properly exposed, and over-exposed images

This is the first in a series of articles about how exposure works in digital cameras. If you have a digital camera that can be put into the three “Creative Modes” – Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual Mode – then this article will give you the basic understanding of exposure to make it work to your best advantage. You don’t need a DSLR for this – the information is equally valid for compact cameras. Point-and-shoot owners, or iPhone users should probably concentrate on composition as the exposure in these cameras doesn’t usually allow you to take control of your exposure.

You’ve got a compact camera or DSLR and it works just fine in Programmable Mode, so what are all these other modes good for? Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and (shudder) Manual Mode – what’s the point?  The truth is that you can take a perfectly good photograph using either the Auto or Programmable Modes, but unless you understand what these other “creative” modes bring to the table, you may be missing out on a lot of the flexibility your camera offers and the ability to create photos that will set you apart from the crowd and allow you to create a photo instead of just taking a photo.

Taking a photo is easy. You just point and click. Today’s cameras are really excellent at setting a usable shutter speed. They may turn on the flash when you need it, and usually grab a good image of your subject. For many people, that’s enough.

Creating a photo means that you are in control of the image and are making conscious choices about how that image will appear. In some cases, that may mean putting your camera into Programmable Mode! But that should be a choice, not a lifestyle; and in order to make an informed choice you will need to know how the basic settings of your camera conspire to give you a good exposure.

Exposure Basics

There are three components that work together to deliver a good exposure: Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO. Of these, only shutter speed is anywhere near obvious in its meaning and intent, but knowledge of all three is key to understanding why a photo appears the way it does. There is no such thing as THE perfect exposure. There are actually many combinations of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO that will yield perfect exposures. When the camera is in Auto or Programmable mode, it will balance two or even all three of these to yield one perfect combination – if it can. Usually the fully automatic modes will try to pick a mid-range aperture – around f/8 – but won’t allow the shutter speed to drop below 1/60 sec, if possible. The result is probably a good photo, but all your photos tend to look similar in style because the fully automatic modes are designed to produce a consistent exposure following some simple rules. But many other exposure combinations are possible, and they all look slightly different.

Consider the scene below. Each image is a perfect exposure of the same scene, but they look very different (click to enlarge).

Same scene, three different apertures. Notice how the background changes.

The scene on the right is typically what you would get if you took the picture with a point-and-shoot camera. Most everything is in focus and nothing is isolated visually from anything else. This can be a problem in a photograph because, unlike our normal stereoscopic sight, this photograph lacks depth – you can’t easily distinguish what is close from what is further away without factoring in how large you know things to be, or if one thing obscures another. What looks good to you in person may get lost in the background because the camera can’t distinguish the subject. The scene in the middle is what a camera might take if it were in Programmable or Auto mode. These modes strive to take a one-size-fits-all approach that might blur the background a little, but has a good depth of field. This helps to identify what the photographer was trying to take a picture of, but may not be enough of a visual cue for the viewer. In the photo on the left, the focus is clearly on the flower, so there is no doubt what the photographer wanted to draw your attention towards. Each of these exposures are perfect, and each have their place. Your job is to learn how to deliberately create each type of photo and then decide for yourself which is appropriate for the image you want to capture.

A perfect exposure can be likened – albeit poorly – to a bucket that is filled with water using a hose. The goal is to fill the bucket – and that represents a perfect exposure. Light is analogous to water in this case. The amount of time it takes to fill the bucket is the shutter speed. The size of the hose is like the aperture: a fire hose will not take as long to fill the bucket than a garden hose will, because the wider fire hose will allow much more water to flow than a narrow garden hose. The size of the bucket is determined by the ISO. The higher the ISO number, the smaller the bucket is – in other words, it doesn’t take as much water to fill it.

Using this analogy, you can imagine that if it takes 30 seconds to fill a bucket with water from a garden hose, it might only take a second or two to fill it from a fire hose. If the bucket were smaller, then it could be filled faster without using a larger hose, and so forth.

In future posts I will examine each of these exposure components in turn and I will show what each of them does and why you might want to take control of them to help make a more compelling photograph.