A place to post thoughts, ideas, and questions. Post a link to something you’ve made. If I can’t answer it I’ll find someone who can.


  1. A friend recently asked me to to look at her pictures and give her advice on how to improve.

    I thought your pictures had good exposure so I thought I could give you some advice on composition and then on editing.

    I don’t yet have any article on composition. I did a quick google search and thought this site had a great start.

    Take a look. The key is to not get overwhelmed. Learn 2 or 3 compositions that seem to resonate with you. Then pick up your camera and refuse to put it down until you’ve taken pictures of them. You probably won’t have to travel more then 5 feet to find them. The pictures don’t have to be worth sharing, just get the compositions.

    What are compositions? Here’s a line from my article on post processing about rules.
    “Rules in Photography are very important. They are only as good as they describe what our mind innately find beautiful. That is their one and only purpose. Any other “rule” isn’t one at all.”
    No-one ever told me that. I just figured it out. Why is it that when you put the subject in the rule of thirds it looks better? It’s because your brain thinks it’s just right. Pay attention to the next time you talk to someone or look at something on the table in front of you. You don’t put them square in front of you. You offset it to the side. Thats all the “Rule of Thirds” attempts to do. It mimics something innately programed into our minds.

    So it’s worth the time to learn a couple new rules and practice taking pictures of them. Eventually you will be saying to your spouse. Wait we have to pull over, I just saw a “S-line” leading to a “Pattern”.
    AFTER you learn the rule you’ll learn when to break them to make a story about the subject. That’s when eye catching beauty happen. Violate one rule on purpose and you catch a viewer and force him to consider your subject in a certain way.


  2. Thanks Mark! I will use the tips and hopefully improve my shots!


  3. Thanks Mark! I will use the tips and hopefully improve my shots. I use Photoshop, and sometimes if i am short on time, Picasa to edit my photos.


  4. Shameka, I made this little video;
    to show one adjustment possible with Picasa or Photoshop. Using the histogram to set the black and white points will add more pop to you images. Beyond that adding a S-Curve gives even more attention and interest. (I made it with minimal equipment to help someone else.)


  5. pleaselouise · · Reply

    I am so confused… I have read through your blogs and I still can’t decide!!! I am a mac user and a beginner photographer but I totally get how editing your photos can really turn them from ordinary to extraordinary so with that in mind on a whim I just bought Lightroom (it hasn’t arrived yet). But reading through your blog I am now thinking I may have made a mistake. I know you have gone with Lightroom but I’m still not sure if aperture might be the way for me. Currently my library sits in iphoto. I film videos and take photographs. I have a blog that I would like to be able to connect with seamlessly. And that is probably it for my requirements for the moment! HELP!


    1. I just recorded a few videos comparing them yesterday. It gave me a bit of a different perspective. The best way I can describe the difference now is the biggest difference to me. That is the way each handle the histogram. It is the key to editing a photo with purpose with exacting effect and I’d argue with beautiful result. Aperture and Lightroom handle the histogram differently. Aperture sets it up as a work of art. You don’t get access to it directly but with sliders you can watch it move. You don’t know ahead of time how each will affect it. You get 4 sliders total.
      With Lightroom you almost feel like the histogram is on an operating table. The 5 sliders you have each are in tune with performing a precise and easily seen effect.

      With lightroom it’s almost like you’re given a scientist job of experimentation with precision.
      With aperture it’s almost like your job as an artist goes right into the post processing. The end result isn’t as important as the way you get there.

      So if you don’t think you want to have precise control over the histogram and you don’t want to ever grow into that skill then you Lightroom might not be for you. It’s not the easiest program to use. Exporting a simple jpeg to your hat drive is like pulling teeth the first time you do it. Once you figure it out its eat and fine. It has WAY to many choices to make with way too much choice all in your face at once. Aperture has most of the same features hidden and tucked neatly away.
      The other big difference is that if you get confused about something if you google , “how do I ______ with Lightroom” you are much much much more likely to get a good answer faster then for aperture.

      Precise controls, size of community and support – Lightroom

      Pleasing and smooth interface , working with iWork, works with iPhoto, save time – Aperture

      Also I’ve been trying to use light rooms video features, I think it’s terrible. You’re much better off just sticking with iMovie.


  6. Hey Mark, a student of mine would like to know when is it appropriate to use a flash?


    1. Mark, the question is fairly general so I hope you have some tapas to snack on while you read the response.

      I can think of three cases your student should use a on camera pop up flash.

      They are hiking in the woods outside Madrid. Just as they walk into a dark area they see the Spainish version of bigfoot. They turn up the ISO all the way, open the Aperture up all the way and choose a shutter speed as slow as their focal length. They snap the shot but Spanish Bigfoot (AKA Granda Pie) is too dark. In this case use the pop up flash. Just know that when GrandPie gets back to his liar and sees himself tagged on Facebook he will be a little self conscious. He’ll have red eyes, look 10 years older then he is and have an unnatural light.
      Your student is taking a picture of their friend, Pablo. Pablo is standing in the sun and doesn’t have time to step into shadow or even turn around to put the sun on the back of his head. She notices that the sun is just about to go behind a cloud (making the light more diffuse). She says in Spanish, “Pablo un moment pro favor.” Pablo responds, “No.” (This is Spanish for No.) Your student should roll her eyes and then pop up the flash and turn it’s exposure compensation down. (EV -1 or -2) This will allow the pop up to act as fill, making the harsh shadows from the sun be filled in a little. Use it sparingly or you’ll have the Grand Pie effects of red eye etc… on Pablo.
      Your student is at a rocking night club. They forgot their nice DSLR with a large sensor. They only have a little point and shoot or smart phone. It can’t handle the low light of the club well (poor high ISO performance). They want to capture an action shot with no motion blur so can’t set the camera down and get a long exposure. In this case your student should look a little weird and grab a white piece of paper and use it to bounce the light from the pop up flash onto a light surface near the subject (like a wall or ceiling). You turn the worst light possible (small source near the lens) to the best source possible (large source off camera). It’s tricky though so make sure she’s patient.


  7. Ha, ha! Very interesting! So what I’m hearing is avoid the pop-up flash at all costs. Thanks for the advice. That leaves me wondering, though, about other types of flash and lighting… but then I think that’s beyond the scope of this particular question. ¡Que tengas un buen dia!


    1. The pop up does have some uses, just very few if you want the picture to be something your proud of. My new camera doesn’t even have one.

      A basic summary of any light source is to get it as close and as big as possible. One free way to do this is the put someone near a bright window with thick translucent white curtains. It’s stunning light. An overcast day is great too.

      This flattering soft light is difficult to do with flashes. Mainly because you need a big modifier, like a large clumsy soft box. My site’s “gear” section has recommendations for portable flash choices for three different price levels.

      I’d recommend your students focus on using the sun and reflecting it. One $30 reflector can do wonders. You’ll just generally need someone to hold it.

      In the mean time the best lesson is to watch people’s faces all day. Pay attention to when the light flatters, and when you notice all the blemishes. Pay attention to when you see catch lights, when their iris’s are nice and big. Then find the light sources and figure out why, what is the light doing that cause that negative or positive affect. This is a lesson you take with you all day long.

      In any inside or outside situation I’m in I can position someone in a way that’s relatively flattering. I’m basically trying to getting the biggest light source as close as possible. If I have a choice of direction I default to 45 degrees from straight on and 45 degrees up. This is the way Rembrandt painted so they call it Rembrandt lighting. If I have my external hotshot flash I bounce it off a wall. This make a HUGE close light source, YES!
      Dios hizo luz. Me gusta luz.


    2. Mark

      Here’s a quick video on using a reflector, one external flash (and flour) for a good shot. It’s a bit unconventional but works.


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