Photoshop Tutorial- Soften Skin, Keep the texture.


Softening skin is something that can come in very useful for anyone who likes to shoot portraits, whether it’s just for a hobby or full beauty/portfolio head shots. This technique is very useful because it Keeps the texture of the skin whilst the same time softens areas of imperfection. You can see the before and after effect in this beautiful image of my face 🙂

I'm no model, but after 15 years of working outside my skin is perfect for this tutorial :-)

I’m no model, but after 15 years of working outside my skin is perfect for this tutorial 🙂

This technique is fairly simple to achieve using only a few layers and two filters. read on to find out how. Continue reading

Photographing Black & White Landscapes


Final Image Processed in Lightroom

Landscapes often rely on colour for impact but they don’t have to and in many cases the absence of colour can improve the image. In this post we focus on Black & White landscapes,when they work and how to capture and process them.

Personally, I find black and white landscapes work best when there is texture, shape or tone to work with, colour can distract from the image in these cases but black and white removes the distractions and focuses the eye on the key elements of the image.

Let’s look at the original RAW file

RAW file Straight out of Camera

RAW file Straight out of Camera

I took this in early afternoon in mid summer, this has resulted in harsh light and washed out colours, so why did I take it?
I was attracted to the line that run across the scene and felt it would make a good candidate for black & white.
Once the image was captured, the next stage is processing and conversion of the RAW file. I use the following method:

  • Import image into Lightroom or an image editor of your choice which allows handling of RAW files.
  • Decide on crop – I cropped out roughly a 3rd from the bottom of the image to make a panoramic style image and place the horizon on the lower 3rd
  • I have a selection of Lightroom presets. I chose the one which was closest to the final image I had visualized.
  • Add a graduated filter to gradually darken the sky from the top of the image to the horizon.
  • Add a similar graduated filter from the bottom of the image to darken the foreground and enhance highlights.
  • The combination of these filters leaves a lighter area along the horizon helping to draw the eye to this area.
  • Using the brush tool, selectively darken areas of the image to deepen shadow and give depth.
  • Using the brush tool, selectively lighten areas; the path, cloud and grasses in foreground.
  • Using clone tool remove small cloud to the left of the image

In total the processing took less than 10 minutes and has transformed a bland, featureless image into a strong image highlighting the repeating lines of the path, horizon and grass and contrasting  light and shadow.

Tips for shooting from your airline seat

I love to travel, and I think travel and photography just go hand in hand. When I travel by myself, or without the kids, I always try to make sure I get a window seat (when the kids are coming with I let them have that window seat because I’m nice like that). I like that window seat so I can take aerial photos; I just cannot help myself.

In this article, I will share some tips for improving in-flight photos to help taking pictures out of that airplane window.

Leaving Las Vegas

Leaving Las Vegas

First, try to get a window seat near the front of the plane or in front of the wings for a unobstructed view. is a superb resource to discover the seat locations on the plane so can be a valuable tool in getting your best chance for good shoots. Try to avoid the seats behind the wing, the engine exhaust can distort and create blur.

The most fascinating views, happen right after take off and shortly before landing, so make sure you have your camera out before the plane leaves the gate or risk missing at least one of these interesting views. Make sure to have the lens hood attached to the lens this will help in dealing with reflections on the window. It is extremely tempting to press the hood right up against the window, but resist this urge as it will transmit vibrations to the camera. Get as close to the window as you can without touching it. Turn off your overhead lights in your row of seats to minimize reflections and then use your hand to block off as much light as possible, avoid touching the lens hood with your hand if your hand is resting up against the window, and try to make some overlap between your hand and the lens hood. Do not use a polarizer, as these more than likely will produce color banding in the windows.

If the window got a lot of scratches or smudges, be prepared to change into auto focus, especially if the camera autofocus has difficulty focusing. A neat little trick to avoid getting the scratches and smudges visible in your image is to use a high aperture value, and in the worst case all that will show is a small spot that will resemble a dust spot against bright backgrounds like the sky, but nothing that the spot removal tool cannot easily take care.

Keep your camera to your eye and be prepared for when the plane banks, this will provide a marvellous view of the ground. If your taking off before sunset and land well after sunset, try to figure out at what time sunset is and keep an eye on the sunset. A sunset from 30,000 feet can be truly spectacular and looks nothing like a sunset seen from the ground. It is an extraordinary opportunity to make a sunset photo that will stand out from all the rest.

The above image titled “Leaving Las Vegas”As my flight took off from McCarran International airport in Las Vegas, NV was taken using these tips. I used a Sigma 24-70mm F/2.8 lens zoomed in to 44mm to get a bit closer to the Vegas Strip. The exposure made with a Nikon D80, was 1/125 sec, at f/8, ISO 100, since I got lucky and the plan was decidedly new, so the window had almost no scratches I could use a relatively low aperture setting.

Photography Techniques – Low Key Portraits

Ever wondered how to create a “Low Key” portrait like this?

This tutorial will teach you an easy way to do it, WITHOUT a studio and using only one Speedlight.

Firstly to kill the jargon around what is and isn’t “Low Key”?

Generally, any image in which most of the tones are dark is a low key image, so if it’s a portrait like this one, or a full body shot where the subject is wearing dark clothing and is stood in shadow it will be classed as a Low key shot.

To Achieve this shot you will need a few things.

  • A camera that lets you adjust shutter speed and Aperture value. (For a basic run down on this, you can check out This Article ) The camera also needs to be able to fire a Speedlight/Flash from a hot shoe/ or sync cord.
  • A Speedlight that has manual power adjustment. 


You can see from my setup shot that you don’t need a studio, and you don’t need to black out all the light or do the shot in the dark. The flash ideally needs to be on a stand. If I hadn’t have left my DSLR on the tripod to show the setup for the shot, then I would have mounted the flash onto the tripod. This can be done using the plastic feet that come with most brands of speedlights. If you haven’t got one, you can pick them up very cheaply on internet auction sites.

Firing The Speedlight.

I use a radio trigger to fire my off camera flash, but the cheapest way to do it is to buy a TTL extension cord (Also available for very little on-line)This allows you to fire the flash whilst it’s not on top of the camera. One end of the cord slides onto the hot shoe on the top of the camera body, then the other end attaches to your flash.

 Control The light.

The first thing we have to do is set the camera to the highest shutter sync speed that the manufacturer allows. This is the highest speed that the camera can use and still see the light from the flash. It is a little more complex than that, but for the purpose of this exercise it’s not important. You can find the maximum sync speed of your camera in your user guide, or if you’re not sure, stick to a shutter speed of 1/200 of a second. (This is normally the speed for most consumer DSLR’s and bridge cameras)

Once you’ve done that and you are set to the widest aperture your lens will allow, if you press your shutter release you’ll probably have something like this. (Although your subject will probably look more interested than my son does !)

The next step is to get rid of all the Ambient light that the camera sees. This is all the natural light that’s bouncing in and around the room. To do this we adjust the aperture until the light is no longer visible. You can take test shots at each setting and just have a look on the LCD screen to see when you have the right setting. I’ve shown this in the images below, but bear in mind that your values might be different depending on what lens you are using. And the shutter speed needs to remain at 1/200 or whatever your maximum sync speed is.

Once you have a completely black image like the one above, you can bring in the Speedlight. What we want is the camera to only see the light that the Speedlight is giving off.

Setting your Speedlight.

The Speedlight needs to be in nice and close, set to manual (If you set the Speedlight to TTL it will try and put enough light out to properly expose the whole room and that’s not what we want this time) Your Speedlight needs to be set on the lowest power in my case 1/128 of full power.If your Speedlight doesn’t have a power adjustment, don’t worry, I’ll cover that at the end.

This is my result for the first shot.

You can see that there isn’t quite enough light getting onto my subject. So leaving all settings on the camera as they are, we adjust the power on the Speedlight. The power setting is increased up to 1/64 power and the result is below.

Now you can see that the subject is properly exposed, and the background is still black. All that’s left is a slight change in the subject’s position, or moving the location of the Speedlight slightly to put more light on his face where we want it.

Overcoming Problems

If as discussed earlier your Speedlight does not have a manual power control there are several things you can do. Most Speedlights have at least a MH (Manual high) and ML (Manual Low) setting. If this is the case then set to ML, then if you find you still have too much output (The background is lighting up) you can do a few things to combat this.

You could put an ND filter on your lens to reduce the amount of light getting to your sensor. But this is not a cheap option. You could put an ND filter on the Speedlight itself to reduce the power of the output. These can be bought very cheaply, or sometimes “LEE Filters” will send out free sample packs of coloured gels and filters for free on request to one of their suppliers.  The cheapest way, and the solution I often use is to get an elastic band, and fasten one or two sheets of toilet paper over the Speedlight  head. This diffuses the light and makes it softer, and it reduces the output.

I hope all this helps, and don’t hesitate to pop over to the Photography Chat community on G+ to ask for advice and help or to share  your own images done with this technique.

Photoshop Tutorial – Selective Colour / Colour Pop


This technique is as old as Photoshop itself, in fact it’s older. Ever since the days where the colours of a photo were hand painted, people have been altering colour, or selectively colouring images to create this very powerful effect.

Red Lady

This technique is simple to achieve and anyone with a version of Photoshop should try it out. This simple tutorial will show you the basics of creating a Colour Pop image.

Choosing an image

Any image will work using this technique, but I find the best images are ones in which the item that you want to “Pop” has a good strong colour that is well saturated, and that the rest of the image works well in Black and white. This is why you often see Selective colouring techniques used on a red subject, this is because reds are often well saturated and contrast well against a black and white background.

Duplicate the layer.

I will assume that you already know how to open your image in your version of Photoshop. Once loaded the first thing we need to do is duplicate the layer. There are several ways to do this, but I find the easiest method is to right-click on the layer thumbnail, then select >Duplicate Layer… ­

Right click on your layer, then select Duplicate Layer.

What this action does is create an exact copy of the original image directly on top of your starting image.

Convert To Black and White

The next step is to convert this “Top” layer into a black and white image. To do this, make sure you have the top layer selected on the right hand side, then click “Image” (located on the top menu bar) >Adjustments>BlackAndWhite .

Make sure you select the top layer (single left click) then “Image”>”Adjustments”>”BlackAndWhite”

When you do this you will notice a dialogue box pop up, with several sliders to adjust. For the purpose of this exercise you can ignore these and just press ok.You should see your image be converted into black and white.

Create a Layer Mask.

Layer masks seem to be a mystical force of sorcery according to many people I speak with, but it’s really quite a simple concept. When you put a layer mask over a layer, it hides the contents or effects of that layer where the mask is black, and shows them where its white. That’s as complex as it needs to get for this task.

To add a layer mask, make sure once again that the top layer is selected, then click on the button at the bottom of the layer tab, that looks like a box with a circle in the middle.

The Layer Mask button is located at the bottom right of the screen.

Once you’ve done this, you should see a layer mask appear next to the layer. It should be a white rectangle depending on your settings, but if its black then select it with a mouse click then hold ctrl (cmnd for Mac) and press “I” this should turn it white and reveal the Black and white layer again.

Paint Back The Colour

Now for the fun part. All you have to do is select your brush tool by either clicking th icon on the left hand side, or just press “B”. Make sure that you have selected the mask by clicking on it and that you have black selected as your brush colour, then just paint black on the mask where you want your colour to show through. If you make a mistake, you can undo it by simple painting the mask white again where the effect is unwanted.

Once you are happy with your result click “Layer” (Top menu bar again) then “Merge Visible” This will compress the image back into one layer and allow you to save the file in the format you prefer.

I hope this tutorial has been of some help, and that you enjoy making the most out of your images.

Photography Basics – Exposure and Histograms

histogramIn my previous post: Photography 101 – Aperture, Shutter Speed & ISO we explored the basic camera controls, their relationship to each other and their use in both everyday photography and creative photography.

Today I want to look in greater depth at how this relates to the captured image in terms of Exposure and the Histogram.


In simple terms exposure is the amount of light that is allowed to fall on the sensor (or film) when you take a photograph and modern cameras will have a built in exposure meter (or light meter) that will determine the light values of a scene and attempt to return a result that will give a suitable mid tone which equates to 18% grey.

Why 18% grey? Simply, this is the correct value for caucasion skin tones under normal lighting conditions and is considered the standard that meters are set to.

So with our camera set to auto the meter will evaluate the scene and attempt to set the aperture and shutter speed to give an average exposure of 18% grey, which generally will give a reasonable image. The problem with this approach is that we do not always want to photograph average subjects; we may wish to photograph non-Caucasian skin tones, snow and beach scenes, night scenes, high key and low key scenes.

In these situation the light meter will attempt to reproduce the scene to 18% grey which will result in under exposed snow / sand or blacks will look grey or muddy, in these cases we need to make a judgement of what is the most important part of the image to expose for and trick the meter into making the correct settings.

Exposure Meters

Exposure meters fall broadly into two categories; built in (part of the camera) or hand held and can feature several different modes.

Center Weighted Average Metering

In this system 60-80% of the exposure is biased towards the central portion of the viewfinder and gives less importance to the exposure towards the edges. This will generally return acceptable results with portraits and general scenes as it will be less influenced by brighter skies etc.

Average Metering

The exposure is calculated by averaging out the entire scene.

Spot Metering

In this mode metering is based on 1-5% of the viewfinder, typically the very center, variations will enable the photographer to select from different areas of the viewfinder or may offer multi-spot metering, where a series of targets can be selected.

Spot metering is ideal for subjects with high contrast such as back-lit subjects, photographs of the moon or actors / musicians against a dark or light background.

Multi Zone Metering

Also known as ESP, Matrix, evaluative or honeycomb metering. Here, multiple zones are metered and used to determine exposure across the scene, different bias will be given to different areas and this will in some cases be linked to the camera auto-focus to bias the point of focus.

So far we have discussed various metering systems and how they attempt to make the correct exposure, some of their drawbacks and basics of operation, all of which leaves two questions; how do we know if the exposure is right? If it’s wrong how do we correct it?


The histogram is a graph showing the distribution of exposure levels across an image and can normally be found on most image editing software and can normally be enabled to appear on the rear LCD screen of most cameras.

Values to the left of the screen represent blacks and dark tones, to the right light to white tones and the graph will normally show a peak where the exposure is concentrated. If this peak is towards the left, the image will be dark and shadow detail may be lost, if fully to the right the image will be very bright and highlights may burn out. In the majority of situations we would want to expose so that the peak is just to the right of center as shadows can be recovered easier than highlights in post production.

If we need to adjust the exposure when using any of the camera auto modes e.g. program, auto, aperture or shutter priority, then we need to trick the meter by using the exposure compensation control to manually increase or decrease the exposure, use exposure bracketing to take a series of exposures (normally at 0, +1Ev, -1Ev) or use Exposure Lock (AEL) to meter an important part of the scene which is off center before re composing.

Correct use of the Histogram allows us to better understand where the light distribution is within the image and will lead to better captures, with experience and use of the histogram function you will learn to understand how light interacts with the elements of the image and how to better set the camera controls before taking a shot.