Category Archives: Photo Tips

How to Choose a Photo Title

photo title

We’ve all done it – we’ve taken that amazing photo, but when it comes time to share it with the world and our friends, we simply just don’t know how to decide on a photo title.  Don’t panic!  I have some tips to help you!

Picking Your Photo Title

If you want to a kickass photo title, there isn’t a right or a wrong way to do it.  Title it any way you want!  But sometimes we don’t know where to start, so here are some guidelines to get the juices flowin’.

1. The Gearhead Jargon Title

We’ve all seen it, and for good reason:  this title is not only informative, but it makes you sound like a pro to the people who probably aren’t pros.  That’s okay, we love gearheads.  To do this title, just list the camera, lens, aperture, and maybe the shutter speed and ISO.  If you want to troll a little, make up an impossible setup, post it to an online forum (for the right audience, e.g. a Nikon users forum), and sit back and enjoy the lulz.

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Nikon D2Xs, Sigma 30mm f/1.8 – 1/40 at ISO 800


2. The Location Title

Probably the most minimalist and the least polarizing, this photo title has been done before and lends an artistic air to what you’re shooting.  The photo above may not fit, so I will use another that works better with this title.

photo titleMarlbourogh Road, Parkville – Brooklyn NY


3. The Lyric Title

This is a great way to appeal to the younger crowd, ’cause they’re obsessed with music.  Then again, it seems like everybody is these days.  Pick something popular or classic, but not too obscure – that’s another kind of title entirely.

photo title

 Break on Through to the Other Side 


4. The Obscure Reference Title

Another favorite for people of all ages, but especially nerds and geeks, or buffs of certain types, this photo title should be out there.  The more obscure the better.  Movies, literature, and old songs are all fair game, as are inside jokes.

photo title

Cellar Door 


5. The Dualistic Title

This one goes both ways.  The best way to come up with one of these is to think of something physical in the photo, and something aesthetic about the photo, and then join the two together.  This is about as faux-artsy as you can get, but it works.

photo title

Over Shadowed


6. The Descriptive Title

Your basic, no-nonsense title that tells your viewer what they need to know – and nothing more.  It has the possibility to make exciting photos more exciting, but it can also make boring photos more boring, so use with caution.

photo title

Shadows on the Door of a Parkville Home.


7. The Narrative Title

This is much-used by the 365 crowd who want to spice up their photos with something other than numbers.  As a photo title, it easily lends itself to life-logging and journalistic tendencies, where people aren’t just taking photos, but actually telling a story.  It’s also more of a description than a title, but don’t be afraid to rock it with confidence and switch things up a little.

photo title

Waiting for my girlfriend, I wandered the cold and the dark of Parkville.  As I stopped to light a cigarette, the falling shadow of an ancient tree sprawled across the barren, minimalist facade of a lonely but well-kept home.


8. The Theme/Series Title

An excellent accompaniment to any project or series is a title that cohesively ties one photo to the rest.  This can be an abstract title or a more worldly one (stressing location, for instance).

photo title

Loneliness – Light and Shadow or Parkville #10 – Door with Shadow
(theme – specific motif) or (series title – specific image)


Okay, so there you have it folks – some ideas to get you started on choosing the photo title that’s right for you.  Have any ideas of your own?  Share them with us!  We love to talk photography!


Image Sharpness and Telephoto Lenses: Tips and Tricks

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I recently had the chance of meeting a guy named Jay, who had taken some photographs of birds.  After photographing the birds, Jay realized that the images were too grainy and not very sharp.  So Jay asked me what he could do to save the images.

Image Sharpness and Telephoto Lenses

Jay had the kindness to show me some of his work shortly after we talked about the photos in question.  His other examples were crisp, sharp photographs of wildlife.  He was shooting with a Sigma 50-500mm f/4.5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM telephoto zoom – a strong performer where Sigma telephoto lenses are concerned.

Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20.  And even though we all know it, you should prepare yourself adequately before going out into the field.  Not only should you be thinking about gear, but also how you will take photographs as you see them.  

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Knowing how to react makes you a better photographer.  The answer doesn’t have to be all about the technology.  This image was taken using the poor man’s macro technique.

A lot of our photography education seems to be centered around the technology, and I’m all for some of that.  But another part of our education should be how to react in given situations.

Jay did right by packing a 50-500 mm lens.  For wildlife photography, you can’t get much better.  And the f/4.5-5.6 wasn’t amiss because he was shooting in broad daylight.  But there are some extra things Jay could have done to improve his shots while he was photographing.

First off, image sharpness and telephoto lenses have a rocky relationship.  A lot of times photographers see sample images online and think This lens took these pictures!, while what they should be thinking is that the lens, coupled with some other key factors like stabilization, light, and distance, probably contributed a great deal to the resulting image quality, as well.

image sharpness and telephoto lenses sample image

Taken with a Tamron 55-200 mm manual focus lens, without a tripod.  It helped that I laid in the grass to take this.

Another pitfall for those of a technical inclination is to buy into the idea of image stabilization (in the lens Jay was using, this corresponds to Sigma’s OS designation – optical stabilization).  I won’t bore you to death with the science of it, but suffice to say that image stabilization (IS) is a combination of moving glass, motors, sensors, and springs, that attempts to cut down on lens vibration.  It handheld situations, IS can be incredibly useful.  With a tripod, IS is actually counterproductive, and result in not-so-sharp or even downright blurry images.

If you’re shooting as Jay was, turn off IS (most lenses have a switch for this), and use stabilization.  If you have a tripod, use it.  If you don’t have a tripod, use anything.  Use a rock or a tree, a fence post, a park bench, even the roof of your car.  Put sturdy items beneath the lens (like a bipod on a machine gun) to increase your angle without losing stabilization.  These are tricks I’ve used that actually work folks.  Gear can be a great help, but you should never find yourself limited by it.

Secondly, you need light.  This can be tricky, and when it comes to image sharpness and telephoto lenses, it is usually a trade off.  After you’ve brought your shutter speed down as low as you can reasonably go, and after you’ve selected the minimum aperture, your only option left is to jack up the ISO.  Doing so can result in noisier images, so knowing your camera well – and it’s tolerances will go a long way here.

Thirdly, alter the distance.  Photographers the world over have been blessed with things called legs that actually pre-date the zoom lens.

I know.  It’s astounding.

But let’s face it – even though the manufacturers want you to drool over that 500 mm lens, the 500 mm focal length within it’s zoom range is probably not the focal length for optimal sharpness.  Every lens has an optimal focal length – a “sweet spot” – where things just seem better.  There are people out there who test lenses for this.  Go find them.  They will love the fact that someone actually cares.

At any rate, getting closer in can be a challenge.  Too close and you’ve spooked the wildlife.  How do you go about it?  Photography – especially wildlife photography – is very akin to hunting.  You have to take your time, and you have to be intelligent about it.  Move slowly, move quietly.  If an animal is looking at you, don’t approach it.  If an animal has reacted once to your movements, don’t approach it.  And if at all possible, stay upwind from the animal you want to shoot.  These tricks can help you photograph something without spooking it.

Okay, so you’re not a big game hunter, and it is pretty difficult to stay upwind from birds.  I’ll admit these things.  What I won’t admit is that there isn’t a solution to the problem of being too far away.

On the technical side of things, there are ungodly zoom lenses that you can buy, provided you have money to spend on them.  Or you can look into converters for your lens, although they do decrease image sharpness all on their own, and exponentially if more than one is used.

image sharpness and telephoto lenses sample image

This image is the result of a 50-60% crop.  It was taken with a Nikon 50 mm f/1.8 E Series lens.  More detail here.

Another option?  Old, manual-focus prime lenses that were made for film lenses.  With these puppies, image sharpness and telephoto lenses seem to go hand in hand.  Some will mount with your digital camera and some will not.  Some may even meter with your camera, but most (the vast majority) will never auto focus on your camera.  Gearheads may not want to hear about the advantages of using old glass and throwing all the modern gimmicks out the window, but I’m approaching this from a tried-and-true standpoint, and this particular remedy is easy, cheap, and effective.  Can’t get any closer to your subject?  Crop in post-production.  You’ll still get incredibly sharp results, even if it is considered “wrong” by most photography forums out there.

But what can Jay do now that the moment to photograph these birds is gone?

Software exists – with varying opinions about its effectiveness – that can remove some grain from photos and sharpen them up a bit.  Does this the troubles with image sharpness and telephoto lenses are over?  I doubt it.  Software companies love to show you testimonials of great experiences, but there are usually people with lackluster experiences too.

Another alternative is finding a digital lab that retouch your files.  Such places do exist, though I have never used them and cannot speak of their performance.

Dental Camera Kits and Other Niche Equipment

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One of the things I like to do is appeal to more readers.  Not everyone is in the market for the same camera setup, but all of us can agree that a better image is, well, better.  So what if you’re in a particular field that requires excellent images, with a specific interest in mind, like dental or medical photography?  Look no further.

Dental Camera Kits and Other Alternatives

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with some folks looking for a camera capable of taking high-quality photographs for use in the medical field.  This specific couple was looking for a camera that would take extremely-detailed closeups of a person’s face.

Of course, a regular kit won’t be able to do that right out of the box.  Or, maybe it could, but only with a great deal of unnecessary effort on the part of the user.  After speaking with them about their needs from a camera, it was fairly easy to set them up.  So in the interest of other people out there looking for dental camera kits, or other setups of merit to those in the medical profession, I’ve compiled this guide to help them out.

The Body

The camera body is perhaps the most important aspect of any photographic setup.  This is especially true for dental camera kits and other niches within the medical profession, where great resolution is needed to show the tiniest details.  So what should the body be?  You may not need the most professional body on the market, like the 5D Mark III.  But you definitely don’t want an enthusiasts compact or point and shoot.  What you’ll want, for large images at a reasonable cost, will be a DSLR.  Entry level DSLRs are great for these kits, but splurging on a prosumer can benefit you in the long run, with greater control over your images and extra ease-of-use features like WiFi capability, HD Video, and touchscreen technology.  Specifically, the T3i has been recommended for such kits, but going further, I would personally recommend the T5i or the 70d.  While there are many options out there for bodies, one thing you’ll want to keep in mind when choosing, is the presence of a focusing mirror within the body.  This motor allows more lenses to auto focus with the camera, cutting down on time spent manually focusing each shot, and ruling out errors that might arise from poor eyesight.

canon instant rebate pic

The T3i, a rugged little entry-level DSLR made by Canon.

The Lens

The lens is the second most important aspect here, because normal lenses rarely cut it in terms of close-focusing or macro shooting.  But what does all this jargon mean?  I’ll explain it.

Close-focusing is a designation manufacturers use with certain lenses.  These same lenses can sometimes be referred to as closeup lenses.  Either way, what you’re looking for a is a lens that gets close.  Why?  Close-focusing lenses allow just that: the ability to get as near as possible to your subject.  Want to take a picture of the teeth, the gums, or other parts of the mouth?  Maybe you want to capture wrinkles, or moles?  Close-focusing lenses ensure that you capture these objects however near or far away you want to be.

Macro is a term used in photography for a 1:1 ratio, or greater.  That is, an image that is life-size, or more than life-size, but never smaller.  This means you have the ability to capture extremely large representations of what would normally be seen as small or insignificant.

dental camera kit sample image

The Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 macro, a truly impressive lens.

For lenses, I always recommend primes (lenses of a fixed focal length, that do not zoom), but here you still have many options.  Macro lenses come in all sizes, from a casual 60 mm lens to a whopping 200 mm.  So what’s right for you?  For most medical uses, like those necessitating a dental camera kit, 60 mm or 85 mm lenses will do.  Higher focal lengths are more suitable for product or wildlife photography.

The Flash

A flash is a must have for dental camera kits and other specialty setups.  Extreme magnification and close-focusing lenses require a lot of light.  But they also require that light fairly close to the subject, near the front of the lens.  This means that a normal flash unit won’t give you suitable lighting.  My recommendation?  A ring flash, which is made by most camera manufacturers, and even some third parties.  These flashes can be wired with a control unit over the hot shoe, or they can be wireless and work with your camera’s pop up flash, which may contain a remote function.

dental camera kit sample image

The MR-14EX is a ring flash that will fit any lens with the use of specific adapters.  Not only that, but it runs on four AA batteries and includes its own controls (just like a standard flash unit).

Other Equipment

Simple kits don’t have to be the end of your search for imaging solutions.  For some customers, the ideal setup might be a camera fitted with an adapter so that it could be paired with a microscope (photomicroscopy).  Whatever your needs might be, there are kits out there, and kits just waiting to be assembled.  If you’re looking for something along these lines, I’ll make the same recommendation to you that I made to some folks I helped out earlier this week:  try these guys.  They will be more than happy to hook you up with whatever you need.

Family Photography: Seven Ways it Will Improve You

family photography sample image

If you’re any type of photographer, odds are you’ve been bombarded for requests for every type of photography.  Most of the people around us believe that just because we shoot one thing well, we must be able to shoot drastically different things well, too.  But there’s one kind of photography we should all work with, because it makes us better photographers in the long run, no matter what kind of work we do.

Family Photography and How it Improves You

family photography sample image

Ryan’s birthday party was fun and challenging – photographing events like this are an easy exercise for thinking on your toes.

1.  It makes you better at solving problems.

Photographing families, especially those with youngsters, makes you better at problem solving.  Many times I’ve had to adjust to situations as they’ve developed, to get challenging shots.  But that’s good; challenge is good.  You should always challenge yourself, and what better way to do it than photographing kids who don’t care that you have a camera, who run in and out of the frame, don’t understand the word “still” or the fact that your lens should not be touched with their hands.  I’ve always liked taking photographs of my family, and the families of friends for this reason.  There’s never an easy shoot.

family photography sample image

My older brother being silly and releasing some end-of-day tension with a Rottweiler name Bear.

2.  It helps you deal with people.

We usually look at people who know nothing about photography as incredibly stupid.  And while it’s unfair to think that way, sometimes people just say things we can’t figure out.  People will suggest things that make sense to them, but not to you, and if you can figure out how their non-photographically-inclined minds work, you’ll be better for it.  Not only that, but constantly dealing with families in this manner will give you a lot of feedback – usually positive, but sometimes negative.  All of this will make you better at dealing with people outside the niche.

family photography sample image

Xander in the park, a photograph I took for his mother.

3.  It’s an easy side-line.

Okay, so this one has less to do with skill, and more to do with business, but it’s worth mentioning.  What began as an experiment for me (photographing my niece and nephew) quickly became a side-line, as my friends began asking me to photograph their kids.  Once you’ve got a few good images out there, it isn’t hard to go far with it.  People love their families, and they love having good/artistic/meaningful photographs of family members.

family photography sample image

My nephew Cameron wanted a different kind of portrait, something more spontaneous than ones his parents preferred.

4.  It encourages different techniques.

Family photography might seem easy.  Pose a bunch of people, smiling in front of a camera, and you’re done, right?  Wrong.  Like every other kind of photography, taking a good photo here is always better when done creatively.  You’ll have to learn how to capture surroundings and action, in different lighting situations and locations.  It sets your family photos above and beyond the competition, and those different techniques will stay in the back of your mind when you’re photographing other things, as well.

family photography sample image

I accidentally became a wedding photographer for Mike and Aimee after I photographed their nieces and daughters.

5.  It offers different photo opportunities.

Family photography is a broad term – I consider it any type of photography involving family.  Establishing a report with the families you photograph is easy, and once it’s done, the possibilities tend to multiply.  Suddenly you’ll be asked to shoot a lot more things, like birthday parties and weddings, as well as holidays.  Now, I’m not saying that taking a photograph of little Jimmy makes you a wedding photographer.  But taking a photograph of little Jimmy can get you invited to a wedding with the option to take some photographs while you’re there.  It’s just another way to try a different kind of shooting.  And birthday parties, holidays, and coming-of-age ceremonies are a great way to try your hand at event photography.

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My friend Allison shared this photo of her and her daughter with family members and friends.  

6.  It gives you more exposure.

Family photography is also a great way to show off your skills to strangers.  Make some prints and give them to the family free of charge.  Better yet, pick out some nice frames (pocket the cost yourself) and give those to the family with photos inside.  Don’t think of it as wasted money, because these photographs are your advertising.  People are more likely to recommend you when their friends are asking who took the wonderful photograph you have hanging on their wall.

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A photo I took of Aurora and her cousin Vivian is one of my favorites.  And it’s become part of my portrait portfolio.  

7.  It bolsters your portfolio.

This last boon may not be for everyone.  Some people are niche photographers, and there is nothing wrong with that.  Others like to shoot anything and everything, and that’s good too.  But for those wishing to diversify or bolster their portfolio, this kind of photography can help you immensely.

Creative Portrait: Slow Shutter and Movement

creative portrait sample

I have a shoot coming up in a few days, and although a piece of new equipment would make it easier, I’d rather challenge myself and be more creative.  A lot of photographers think in terms of gear, and while it can be beneficial, sometimes extra equipment forces us to take the same images over and over.

One specific example that comes to mind is lighting.  I’ve always held off on buying wonderful lighting kits, even though I want one and it would make my work easier.  I guess.

So here is something you can try with “bad” lighting that will still get you some interesting and creative portraits.

Creative Portraits with a Slow Shutter and Movement

A couple of years ago, I had a lot of time on my hands.  More than I do now.  So I spent a lot of nights alone, fiddling with my camera and trying experiments or techniques that wandered into my brain.  One of the ideas was for a creative portrait a slow shutter and movement.  I didn’t have anyone to work with at the time, so I photographed myself.

For this set of images, I was shooting in my basement, and I was using a tripod and a bare lightbulb.  The camera was a Nikon D2Xs, but you can do this with any camera.  Digital may be a little easier here, though, since you can modify your process as you go along.  You don’t necessarily need a tripod, as any stable surface will do.

Set up your tripod and camera near the light source.  Decide how you or your subject should be lit for the portrait.  If you’re doing a self portrait like I did, you may have to do some test shots to figure out your area of focus.  Once you’ve got that down, you want to set a timed exposure, and change the shutter speed to 30 seconds.

Press the shutter release, starting the timer.

Get in front of the camera, in your area of focus, and wait for the shutter to go off.

When the shutter goes off, you want to combine stillness with motion.  Being still gives you detail, while moving during the exposure creates blur.  I prefer slow movements because I like the blurred effect.  However, good results can still be had with quick movements.

Experiment with this process.  You’ll be surprised with what you get, and you don’t need expensive studio lights to pull off photos using a slow shutter and movement.  Just a camera, some source of light, and rudimentary time-management skills.  Here are my images.

creative portrait sample creative portrait sample creative portrait sample creative portrait sample creative portrait sample creative portrait sample

Photographers’ Dilemma: How to Share Photos Online

sharing photos online

Back in the old days (five years ago), if you wanted to share photos online, and of decent resolution, you went to Flickr and got to it.  Nowadays, with so many platforms to help you share photos online, is it even a good idea?

How to Share Photos Online

In 2007, Flickr was awesome.  It was a well-maintained club that you could go to and share your creativity.  Sure, some people had their photos used without permission, but we kind of knew that going in.  We all had dreams to put every image out there and share, share, SHARE.  Some hoped to make it big and gain tons of exposure.  Others were more grounded and content with a little feedback.  But it was the place to be.

Nowadays, you can still share images on Flickr, but other platforms have risen up:  Tumblr, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Bokeh, and of course, Facebook.

Up until this year I was a staunch believer in sharing my work.

I would upload everything to Flickr.  Some sensitive material was private, but most was open to my contacts or the world at large.  In addition to this, I kept some albums on Facebook for anyone too lazy to follow the link to Flickr.  And for anyone I wanted to really impress, I had a personal website.

sharing photos online

Keep your professional site professional.  I tend to go with a minimalist approach.

In May, I had an art show in the Lower East Side, and invited friends to drop by.  Several of them asked if the work was the same as the stuff I had online.  It became very clear that if I wanted to draw some people, the key was to be less accessible.

That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be totally inaccessible.  Social networking is the way of the future, in an almost Orwellian way.  We don’t talk to strangers anymore; we send them invitations or requests to meet us online.  We don’t gather at coffee shops and throw work up on the wall – we go to virtual galleries instead.  Digital presence is perhaps the best way to generate buzz about real happenings.

sharing photos online

From one of my seedier venues.  Still awesome, though.

Nowadays, I still upload just about everything to Flickr.  Everything is, by default, private.  I put a few images on Facebook.  Only once I’ve finished a project (one that I don’t want to show at a physical venue), do I display it on my website.

This growth of sharing platforms does help in some respects – it allows us to perhaps go viral as photographers.  Facebook isn’t the best place to maintain control over your images, but it is a great way to get people talking about your photographs.  Even better if you make your pictures visible to anyone online – people see my work and want to become part of the dialogue.  But I guess the point I want to stress here is that it’s important to cull your photographs, and decide which is best to show when, and how.

sharing photos online

Some photos just look better in a frame.

In keeping with this guideline, I’ve also cut down on the amount of photos I show in my online projects.  I began sharing mobile uploads on my Facebook, but wanted more reach, so I moved it to Tumblr.  I’m putting new material on Tumblr, but not on Facebook.  I’ll see how it goes and if there is a positive turnover, I’ll start withholding more material for a show.  Or I may just keep it an online phenomenon and see how far it goes.  But again, the point here is having some quality control and taking charge of how you present yourself.

sharing photos online

sharing photos online

Tumblr can be a good platform for the right image.  I use it to show my mobile uploads, because I don’t like Instagram and I don’t see myself ever printing these large or hanging them anywhere (yet).  

We’ve all seen people jump the gun to share photos online, regardless of quality.  And while that what makes a photograph good is subjective, a good rule to follow here is to show images you’re absolutely proud of.  If there’s even a little bit of doubt, don’t show it.

The only thing worse than a photographer who shares too little in the way of good images is the photographer who shares too much in the way of bad images.

sharing photos online

Show just enough of your photography to get people interested, without giving everything away.

Remember too, that over-branding can be a bad thing.  Spamming your friends or contacts on every social media platform may not be the best way to get yourself out there.  I like to communicate what I do, but never in an overly-promotional way.  I make it clear on my personal profiles what I am about, and what I do, and I include some links, and that’s usually it.  It’s a simple way to share photos online, but it’s also pretty effective.

I recommend this approach – when people start sending you unsolicited feedback and praise (and maybe a little constructive criticism), you’ll know that you’re doing something right.


How to Take Better Self Portraits

better self portrait example

Put down the cell phone and step away from the bathroom mirror.  There’s better self portraits to be had by following these simple five easy tips.

Better Self Portraits in Five Easy Steps

better self portrait example

1. Use a tripod.

Okay, so you don’t have to use a tripod.  But putting your camera somewhere out of arms length really does a lot for the overall effect of a better self portrait.  It at least shows people that you’re trying.  And you won’t have any annoying reflections.  So use a chair, a table, a box, a rock, a car, or a tripod – but just make sure that your camera is stable.

better self portrait example

2.  Use a remote.

Remotes are fun.  Nowadays, some cameras even allow you to use your smartphone as a remote, changing camera settings and area of focus without breaking your pose.  Set your camera’s shutter to release after a few seconds, compose your shot, and then press the remote.

better self portrait example

3.  Try some basic photography techniques.

Bokeh, artistic filters, wide angle shots and other techniques are great for achieving better self portraits.  Or get really artsy by trying things like blur, grain, and extreme contrast.  If these aren’t enough, try wacky edits, extreme crops, or look up examples of other approaches that might interest you.

better self portrait example

4. Take an everyday self portrait.

Take a self portrait while doing something that you do on a daily basis.  Recording your daily routine makes for universal appeal.  Maybe you’re making a sandwich, or just sitting in a chair.  Maybe it’s been a long day and you’re still in your work uniform, or maybe you’re just smoking a cigarette.  Whatever example you choose, odds are it’s going to make for a better self portrait.

better self portrait example

5. Get risque.

Take a self portrait in a state of undress, doing something crazy, or doing something illegal.  Or just go outside of your comfort zone and try something new in the way of edits, execution, or composition.

Hopefully this gets your creative juices flowing.

How to Take Better Family Portraits

better family portraits

Family portraits aren’t hard to come by, but doing them well is something else entirely.  Here are some easy tips to follow if you want to take better family portraits.

Better Family Portraits are Easier Than You Think

better family portraits

1. Get in Close

The first tip I have for you – and this pertains almost exclusively to children – is to get in close.  Kids have their own worlds, their own bubbles of reality.  Getting in close with kids takes you away from your grown-up world and puts you on equal footing with them.  Play around, maybe have some imaginary tea or help build something with LEGO blocks.  As soon as kids see you’re like them, they’re less likely to react to the camera.


better family portraits

2. Interact

Always interact with your family while photographing them.  In fact, when you’re photographing anyone, you should interact with them.  Interaction – verbal, physical, or whatever else – relaxes people.  It switches the mind’s focus from your camera to conversation.

better family portraits

3. Communicate Personality

An easy way to take better family portraits – or go above and beyond what’s already out there – is to communicate your subject’s personality.  Photograph them doing something they love to do, something other family members already know about them.


better family portraits

4. Capture Action

Make a boring portrait more interesting by highlighting action in your shot.  Like most portraits, movement or action trumps a still pose, and conveys a sense of kinetic energy.


better family portraits

5. Stay Simple (sometimes)

Shoot from the front every once in a while, and go with the classic template of a family portrait.  Just simply standing in front of the camera, given the right location and lighting, can make for a better family portrait.

Gear Suggestions

You don’t need a cutting-edge setup to take amazing family portraits, but some things can help.  My first recommendation?  A 50mm f/1.8 prime lens.  These are usually cheap and offer very good results in portraiture.  Another piece of equipment I would recommend would be a wide angle lens.  Wide angle lenses allow you to get in close and capture movements too close for a normal or standard focal length.  If you already have a kit lens (usually 18-55mm), just go with that and see what happens.

Watermarks and When to Use Them

watermark example

Before you go stamping your name on every single image you’ve ever taken, consider what you actually want to accomplish with your watermark.


I’ve sold some photos.  I’m not a professional photographer in that I live solely on the income of my photography, but I have sold photographs in the past, and I continue to sell my services on occasion.

People who haven’t seen my work before, ask me if I watermark.  Once they see my work, they realize that I never watermark my images.  But why not?

For the most part, I’m preoccupied with photographing personal subjects – things that appeal to me, and probably wouldn’t appeal to many others.

What do You Photograph?

I photograph nudes, insects, plants, buildings, and portraits.  From my experience, most people have been interested in printing and hanging the insects and plants.  No one wants to see the photographs of a naked model snorting drugs, or dilapidated apartments in Brooklyn, or a very simple portrait of my high school sweetheart.  So essentially, 40% of my photographs appeal to people, and the other 60% is more for me than anyone else.  In this case, watermarking every image just isn’t necessary.

watermark example

This is a photograph I took of the Bell Tower at Temple University in Philadelphia.  It has been printed without my permission.  I don’t really care.  

Do I watermark the 40% that appeal to people?  Not at all.  Part of me is a firm believer in free art.  I have a day job, and I don’t make a whole lot of money with my photography, and that is probably the way it will always be, and I’m cool with that.  Some people ask me if I can sell them a print.  Most of them want something right away, and all of them have no clue how much it actually costs to print a 24” x 36” photograph.  They don’t know the different costs for materials, and when you tell them the price (maybe factoring in a few extra bucks for you, the artist), you get stunned silence.

Invariably, some people will print and mount my work without my permission.  Sometimes I get angry about this, but usually I just accept the fact that it’s only fair I should give it away.  After all, I am on the subways most mornings photographing complete strangers without their consent.

It shouldn’t be about the money.  I didn’t take up photography to get rich.  I took it up because I wanted to create images with a camera.

Reasons to Watermark

Now, in defense of watermarking, it can discourage people from printing your work without permission.  And if it’s visible without being nightmarish in its prominence (i.e. taking up the width of the entire photograph), it might actually help get your name out there.

Does it make you look more professional?  It can.  Some people (idiots) look for a watermark to know they are working with a Professional Photographer.  Some clients won’t care at all as long as you produce images of quality.  And then there is a small group of people who might be turned off by a watermark and the paranoia it might denote.


 That about sums it up.

Good Ideas for Watermarking

If you are going to watermark, consider a few good ideas when you set out to ID your images.

  1. smaller, discrete watermarks are usually better
  2. large watermarks only obscure more content, hiding a “hook” the photograph might have
  3. consider a watermark that is nearly invisible (like low-contrast type hidden in the corners
  4. consider a symbol, logo, or monogram
  5. develop a style that people will remember and associate with you in particular (discouraging the need for a watermark altogether)

watermark example


A crude watermark you can put on a photo to discourage reproduction.  “cp” stands for Carroll Presson, my name.

Hopefully, this article has been of use to you.  Just remember that while a watermark may be useful, it is never necessary to getting paid work.  It can, however, be used to get your name out there and become a little more visible.

Tilt Shift Effect in Photoshop

tilt shift effect photoshop

We’ve all seen tilt-shift photographs – whether taken with a dedicated lens, or doctored up with a filter.  If you prefer the latter (also cheaper) method, feel free to follow this tutorial, where I break it down for you.

The Tilt Shift Effect in 11 Easy Steps

tilt shift effect photoshop

The original image.

Step 1. Quick Mask

tilt shift effect photoshop

To get a Tilt Shift Effect, first go into Quick Mask Mode (most easily done by simply hitting Q on the keyboard while in Photoshop).

Step 2. Gradient

tilt shift effect photoshop

Now go over to left-hand toolbar and select the gradient icon.  If you don’t see it anywhere on your toolbar, it is paired with the paint bucket, so you can click that icon and select the gradient from its menu.

Step 3. Reflected Gradient

tilt shift effect photoshop

Now at the top left corner of your screen it will show different kinds of gradients.  For this effect we want Mirror Gradient.

Step 4. Specify Focus Area

tilt shift effect photoshop

With Mirror Gradient selected, you should now be able to draw a line, setting the width for your focus area.  I recommend a perpendicular line right through your subject, but whatever you want to do is fine.  It may take a couple tries, but keep at it until you’ve got what you want.

Step 5. Exit Quick Mask

tilt shift effect photoshop

Hit the Q button on your keyboard again to exit Quick Mask.

Step 6. Filter

tilt shift effect photoshop

From the Filter menu, select Blur and then Lens Blur.

Step 7. Lens Blur

tilt shift effect photoshop

Adjust the lens blur to your liking, though I recommend a radius of 2-15, but not much more.

Step 8. Curves

tilt shift effect photoshop

Now go to Image, then Adjustments, and select Curves.

Step 9. Adjust Curves

tilt shift effect photoshop

I’m going to brighten my photo because I think it looks too dark, but you can alter yours to taste.  Here you want to make your photo “pop” somewhat.

Step 10.  Saturation

tilt shift effect photoshop

Again, go to Image, then Adjustments, and this time Hue/Saturation.

Step 11.  Adjust Saturation

tilt shift effect photoshop

Tilt shift photos seem to have a toy camera look, and if you want that effect, simply boost saturation.  I amp it up to 25 for this picture.  If you don’t want the toy camera look, just don’t follow these last two steps (Steps 10 and 11).

tilt shift effect photoshop

The finished photo.

Still want tilt shift in a camera or a lens?  You can buy a dedicated lens for a lot of money, or check out an Olympus E Series camera (the digital Pen) – they offer decent image quality and a range of artistic filters.

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