Photography Tips from A Color Story

Did you know that A Color Story has a huge section of photography tips and tutorials on its website? It’s pretty rad, so I wanted to highlight a few for you here in case you hadn’t seen them yet. I don’t know about you, but this time of year I’ll take any extra creative inspiration I can get!

Love this post about great filters to use for food photography. I also just love looking at pretty food photos. Anyone else? 🙂

Here is a tutorial on how to get vibrant blue skies in your photos. Pretty!

Tips for taking photos in direct sunlight. Always such a challenge—love the perspective the author, Katie, shares.

Really love this post about being present while holding a camera. We want to MAKE memories in addition to capturing them with our cameras. Love it!

And if you’re a fan of our design app, A Design Kit, then you might like this tutorial for five ways to use the collage feature. Plus tips for creating clean designs and choosing a color palette.

For so many +packs of filters or effects we have tutorials on how to use them (often written by the creators of the pack) and so much more! And did you know that A Color Story has a marketplace of Lightroom presets and Photoshop actions created by some of our favorite photographers as well as the ACS team? You can also submit to sell your own presets/actions by emailing us at: hello@acolorstory.com.

If you’re looking to up your photo skills (from your smartphone OR a DSLR), check out our website as we’re always looking for ways to add more value. Thanks for letting me share! xo. Emma

How to Create Bokeh + Light Flares

I am sure that most of you have heard the word “bokeh” before. If you aren’t sure what it is, in simple terms it is basically when the light in your photo is out of focus. Let’s talk about how to capture bokeh and also lens flare! These elements can happen on accident, but we’re going to learn more so we can be in control of our photos. Let’s start with bokeh.

Where and what to shoot: My favorite time to shoot great bokeh shots is at night, especially city scenes! The best part of being in a busier city or even on a busy road is that you have plenty of lights to use for your bokeh. Let’s say it’s nighttime and you have some great city lights … now what? Your lens choice is really the key to unlocking great bokeh. You will want the lens with the lowest aperture or biggest opening. Some great lenses for bokeh include the Canon 1.8, 1.4 or 1.2.

Once you have your lens ready to roll, look for lots of lights. The more lights the better! Also look for a range of colors so that your bokeh is visually interesting with lots of contrast in colors! In the photos below, I decided to shoot my bokeh on a rainy day through glass because it added an extra dimension to the photo, making my final images feel very abstract (this also protected me and my camera from the rain, added bonus!). Try shooting through a window or some kind of glass to capture a reflection, raindrops or just to give your photo added interest.

In the above photos, I wanted to create an abstract type photo, so my bokeh is technically not in focus. It sounds a bit funny, but you can actually make your blurred lights out of focus. Try taking photos of your bokeh really sharp and then some with them slightly out of focus. I wrote a post on creating shapes in bokeh that might challenge you to get creative! You can also find more instructions for how to get bokeh in general on that post. You can also put an item between you and your lights. Focus on the item while keeping your aperture at a very low number (larger lens opening) and by having low depth of field then you will have bokeh created from the lights in the background. I find that keeping your lens on manual focus instead of automatic focus is really helping in getting sharp and distinct bokeh shapes.

Next up is lens flare. Who doesn’t love a beautiful light beam streaming through a photo? That glowy feel can make any photo SO much better. A lens flare happens when sun hits your lens. Lens flare can be your worst enemy or your best friend, as they are beautiful, but if you don’t know how to control them, they could block your subject or ruin a photo. Knowing how to manipulate lens flare can be a huge asset to your photography. When you learn a few tricks, the lens flare can be a tool that enhances your photos instead of a pesky thing that ruins them.

How to stop lens flare: Sometimes lens flare can utterly ruin your photo! The strong light coming into your lens can wash out the whole image, creating a muddy, low contrast photo. Even though you might have a gorgeous beam of light flowing through your frame, your image as a whole can be very poor quality. You can diminish lens flare by blocking it! In order to block lens flare, you need to block the sun from flowing directly into your lens. This can be achieved by using a lens hood or even your hand.

Simply put on your lens hood and the plastic hood will block the flare! If you don’t have a lens hood, place your hand above your camera. Look into your viewfinder and move your hand above your camera until the lens flare is gone. Be careful not to get your hand in the frame. A blurred thumb in a photo is definitely a possibility when you are using your hand to shield the light. Another way to prevent lens flare is move around until your lens flare is gone. I know this sounds so very simple, but it is quite effective! In the photo below, I had no lens flare, but just great golden hour light pouring onto the cactus. By simply moving slightly to the side, I caught the sun’s light in my lens. The direct light flowing into my lens created a strong lens flare. Do you notice how a lot of the detail in the right photo is lost due to the lens flare?

In the photo below, I lowered my camera a bit so that the sun was hidden behind some bushes. The bushes created a diffuser to the sun and made the lens flare not as harsh. I am still getting that great flare while maintaining detail in my photo!

Always use a diffuser if your lens flare is too harsh. A diffuser could be a tree behind your subject or a tall building, anything that will block the light a bit to lighten the strength of the lens flare.

You can also use the maximum lens flare to your advantage. In the photo below, I wanted the little girl’s skirt to be really light and airy. I didn’t care about detail in the skirt that much, as I wanted to capture more of a feeling than a clear representation of what was present. I wanted the glow from the sun to take over my whole frame. In this photo, I did not use my lens hood, and I really love the results.

Your preference of whether or not to use lens flare comes down to what you like. Every photo, model and lighting situation is different. So just play around with lens flares until you like what you see.

Happy shooting! – Janae

Credits // Author and Photography: Janae Hardy.

How to Create Abstract Photos (by Manipulating Shutter Speed)

Creating abstracts by manipulating your shutter speed means that you need to see movement happening and think about how you want to capture it. Whenever I see a real Claude Monet painting, I am amazed by his ability to transform a scene and make it seem like it is dancing in front of my eyes. I feel like you can actually see the water lilies floating on top of the water or see the clouds moving across his landscapes. There seems to be a light jitter in these paintings that gives the feel and effect of movement.

In a somewhat similar way, we are going to try to make abstracts, but we’ll be using a different medium—our cameras. Through keeping our shutter open longer and by letting things move in our pictures, we will create abstracts.

With a longer shutter speed, a simple reflection on the water turns into a glassy wave of colors. Or a child running in a bright outfit results in swirls of color darting through your frame. The options are endless when it comes to the outcome of images you can create.

Seeing the movement: As with many aspects of photography, you need to be able to notice things in your scene. Noticing all the details takes practice because you have to actually stop, look and study. I think seeing the movement can be even trickier because your brain really has to focus on what is happening. You have to see the movement before it happens. In the photo below, I heard the man on the motorcycle coming. I knew I wanted him to be blurred, so I fixed my camera settings so that my shutter was on for a longer period of time. We will go over shutter speed in a bit, but by knowing he was driving by, I could foresee blurring him.

Capturing the movement: To capture movement, a lot has to happen in camera, but don’t let that intimidate you. It’s actually quite simple. Yes, this is very much about shutter speed, but some other elements from your camera come into play as well. First, to ensure that you get a clean image with low grain, set your camera to the lowest ISO possible. This shouldn’t be a problem at all if you are using your tripod. In fact, whenever you are using your tripod, always use a lower ISO. It is a free gift that the tripod gives, so always take advantage of it! If you are outdoors (it depends on how bright it is), but start with using ISO 100 and work your way up. I try to not shoot over ISO 400 if I am outdoors.

Once your ISO is set, you’ll need to set your aperture. Think about your depth of field (DOF) and how much you want in focus. Do you want a deep focus that extends through the picture, just the object or just a small area in focus? A quick tip: Start your aperture at 2.0 or 2.8 for shallow focus. If you want more DOF, start somewhere around 5.6 and work your way up to a higher number. Once your ISO and aperture are set, the fun part begins!

Let’s just take a picture with a correctly exposed image. Your camera will tell you when it is correctly exposed when you turn the dial of the shutter speed moving it up or down and take a picture. Do you see movement? If not, turn your shutter speed to a lower number (this will overexpose your image) and snap another picture. You’ll see that you have a brighter picture than the last. Do you have movement? If not, move your shutter speed and slow it down a bit more. It can take a little while to find the amount of movement you want to show. When you move your shutter speed up and your image is overexposed, you will need to compensate the exposure by lowering your ISO (making it less sensitive to the light) or taking your aperture to a higher number. Doing both of these things will help compensate for a longer shutter speed.

To freeze or not to freeze: When do you know whether a picture will look good blurred or sharp? It all comes down to trial and error. There have been SO many times when I have taken a picture, but when I explored a little more and tested my limits, the end result was so much stronger than the original! So my advice is to take a still picture (with a fast shutter speed) and then a blurred picture (with a slow shutter speed). Now review both pictures on your camera screen and see which one you like best. If you aren’t crazy about what you’re getting, move on to a different subject or change your camera settings. It all comes down to what pleases YOUR eye!

Can’t wait to see what you create! – Janae

P.S. If this tutorial felt a little over your head, you might check out our DSLR Basics course which can help you really get acquainted with your DSLR camera.

Credits // Author and Photography: Janae Hardy.

How to Split Your Focus

Have you ever taken pictures only to get home and realize that something or someone in your picture was not in focus? I know if I have ever rushed through a shoot and haven’t adequately reviewed my images and zoomed in on each subject to make sure they are sharp, I can be left with someone or something out of focus. It is a VERY frustrating thing. One thing in your frame can look perfect while the other is blurry. This can be worse when photographing multiple people in one image.

Just to recap a bit, when you use your focus points (when your camera is in manual mode), you get to choose the point that your camera focuses on. Having this control is absolutely important because it gives you the freedom to focus on EXACTLY what you want. But let’s say you have two subjects in a frame, and you want both of them focused. Is there any way to split your focus and get both of them sharp? Let’s look at several ways to make this happen.

Depth of field: When you are wanting to have multiple things in your photograph sharp and in focus, it can be a bit of a technical game. You have to manipulate one thing to make another thing happen. Your depth of field is basically what is in focus in your camera frame. What is depth of field? Think of it as “how much of the depth is in focus” in your frame. It is the distance/length of the objects in focus in your frame. The less depth of field, the less you will have in focus. The more depth of field, the more you will have in focus. In other words, the lower your aperture (small number but big opening), the less you have in focus. The higher your aperture (big number but small opening), the more you will have in focus. It seems backwards, doesn’t it? Another way to think of it is if you have a low aperture number (f-stop), your depth of field will be thin. Your depth of field gets thicker when you go higher in your f-stop number. It can be a tricky theory to conceptualize and fully understand. You may need to re-read the above sentences a few times until it really sticks in your brain! OK, using the above info, we will apply it to getting multiple subjects/objects in focus.

If you want both subjects in focus, then you will need to use a higher aperture number (f-stop). The higher your f-stop number, the more depth of field and the more you will have in focus! So shooting at say, 2.8 would probably not get both subjects in focus. If they were standing close together it might be possible. Typically though, if I want both subjects in focus, I would start at f/5.6, focus and see how it looks. I might need to take my aperture to a higher number and increase the depth of field until I am happy with the sharpness. Each and every situation is different, so you really must play with your camera settings until you like what you get!

How can you use your focus points and get BOTH things in focus? Remember that you can choose your focus points! Focus points are such a handy tool that you should definitely take advantage of if your camera model has them. Choosing your focus points will drastically change your photo. I showed some examples of this in our course DSLR Basics. If you focus on one part of your photo with a focus point and then in the next picture choose something else, it changes a lot … especially if you are using a low f-stop number! Set your focus point on the subject or subjects you want in focus. Once your focus point is set and you’ve determined your DOF, snap a picture. If everything is not in focus, use a higher f-stop. Also, play around with your focus point, put it on different things in your frame and see the outcome.

In the shot below, we needed all of the shoes sharp. (They were hung in a tree to give them a quirky background.) So how did I get all of them sharp at the same time?

Quick tips for photographing groups of people or multiple objects: use a higher aperture number and put your focus point in the very middle of the group. In the shot below, I have the shoes in focus by putting my focus point in the middle of the tree and using an aperture with more depth of field.

A few tips to ensure sharp photos: If you follow the tips above, you should get your subjects sharp! If you’re still having issues, maybe you’re getting motion blur from your shutter speed being too slow. If you are shooting with a higher f-stop number, you are closing the opening in your camera to a smaller hole which lets in less light. You must compensate for this by using a higher ISO OR a slower shutter speed if you have a tripod. If you don’t have a tripod, then it might be best to make your camera sensor more sensitive to light by using a higher ISO. You will get more light this way AND be able to use a higher f-stop. – Janae

P.S. If this tutorial was over your head, you might consider checking out our course, DSLR Basics. It’s a great introduction to shooting with a DSLR camera.

Credits // Author and Photography: Janae Hardy.

How to Shoot a Double Exposure (in Camera)

Double exposures happened all of the time before digital cameras, and most of the time it was because of a mistake or the camera not going to the next frame on the negative (the film). To do a double exposure intentionally, you just expose the same frame of film twice. It was really easy to do with manual film cameras. You end up with two pictures put together. But you can also do it with a digital camera and get exactly what you want without having to go through rolls and rolls of film.

Quick disclaimer: Only some digital cameras have the capability to do double exposures in camera. If you’re unsure whether your specific model will do a double exposure or not, just look at your manual. I know manuals can be tricky sometimes, so just google it and check if you’re having trouble finding out!

First, let’s go over how to technically do a double exposure. Here are the steps for my camera, which is a Canon 5D Mark III:

-There is a little button on the back. It’s on the top left, and it looks like a little paintbrush and a rectangle. Press that button and it will take you to a menu.
-Scroll to the middle option, which says “multiple exposures” and select it.
-Now select “On: Func/Ctrl”. On the multi-expos ctrl, select “additive”.
-Next, on number of exposures, choose “2”.
-Next, on save source imgs, choose “all images”.
-Then, on continue mult-exp, choose “continuously” only if you want your camera to keep shooting double exposures. If you want your camera to stop shooting double exposures, select “1 shot only” and your camera will go back to normal mode after one double exposure is made.
-The very bottom option lets you choose the image for your base image. Since you need two images, you can choose one that you already took! So if you have a photo in mind that you’d like as a base image, select it! If you have a Canon 5D Mark III, you can turn on your “Live View” option and see both images together. This is called an overlay. With the live view option, you can see exactly how you want to frame and compose your second image on your base image.

Quick note: As with most things in technology, there are many options that you can choose/change. Here, I just give you the basic idea, but there is SO much more you can do! This tutorial is just meant to get you started and jump start your double exposure knowledge. Once you have a grasp on the basic concept, I would encourage you to dabble with your camera, read your manual, and discover all of the different options that your camera offers with double exposure. You can change blending options, how your camera saves the images, and much more.

Once your options are selected in the menu, tap your shutter release to get out of the menu and hit your live view button. Now you are ready to go.

For your base image (if you didn’t choose one you previously shot), find your subject, focus and meter, then take the picture. Your camera will have a little icon that will flash once you take the picture because it is telling you that it is in multiple exposure mode. Now when you move your camera to take your next image, you will see what I like to call a ghost image of the picture you just took. Your camera keeps the hazy image on your screen so that you can see what your next image will look like on top of your previous one. Cool, huh? Once you have your second image framed, don’t forget to put your focus box where you want it, and your camera will focus on that specific part of your second picture. And again, this is what my specific brand and model does; your camera could be different.

When you take the next photo, keep in mind that your SECOND picture will be seen in the dark areas of your first image. So where is a good place to start? Try taking a photo with negative space and only a minimal dark part. This could be a cityscape with the sky blown out or a simple silhouette of a person. Your second photo will now fill in the dark spots. Since you had negative space in your first photo, your second photo will kind of melt into the white nothingness.

To practice this concept, make sure you keep your manual handy! It helps SO much when you are learning a new technical skill. Practice taking pictures with your base image being a really light background or blown out sky with a dark silhouette. For your second image, try capturing something with lots of detail and color! I hope you guys have fun with this and are able to create some really beautiful images!! The options are endless. Just create whatever your heart desires. It can be something abstract as well. The shot below is straight out of the camera. The image was turned for my second image and it created a right angle.

*If you have done your research and your camera will not do a double exposure in camera, don’t lose heart. You can easily create a double exposure in Photoshop by opening the two images (use the same principles that we talked about above), and drag the second image onto your first (base) image. Once the pictures are on top of each other, lower the opacity of the second picture until you like what you see. Once the second picture’s opacity is lowered, you will start seeing the beautiful results. If this makes you feel totally lost because you have never used Photoshop before, you might consider taking our Photoshop for Bloggers course, as it will teach you all the basics, and then you can do this technique with ease! I just wanted to give you some idea of how else to achieve this in case your current digital camera does not have the capability. – Janae

Credits // Author and Photography: Janae Hardy.

How to Shoot a Double Exposure (in Camera)

Double exposures happened all of the time before digital cameras, and most of the time it was because of a mistake or the camera not going to the next frame on the negative (the film). To do a double exposure intentionally, you just expose the same frame of film twice. It was really easy to do with manual film cameras. You end up with two pictures put together. But you can also do it with a digital camera and get exactly what you want without having to go through rolls and rolls of film.

Quick disclaimer: Only some digital cameras have the capability to do double exposures in camera. If you’re unsure whether your specific model will do a double exposure or not, just look at your manual. I know manuals can be tricky sometimes, so just google it and check if you’re having trouble finding out!

First, let’s go over how to technically do a double exposure. Here are the steps for my camera, which is a Canon 5D Mark III:

-There is a little button on the back. It’s on the top left, and it looks like a little paintbrush and a rectangle. Press that button and it will take you to a menu.
-Scroll to the middle option, which says “multiple exposures” and select it.
-Now select “On: Func/Ctrl”. On the multi-expos ctrl, select “additive”.
-Next, on number of exposures, choose “2”.
-Next, on save source imgs, choose “all images”.
-Then, on continue mult-exp, choose “continuously” only if you want your camera to keep shooting double exposures. If you want your camera to stop shooting double exposures, select “1 shot only” and your camera will go back to normal mode after one double exposure is made.
-The very bottom option lets you choose the image for your base image. Since you need two images, you can choose one that you already took! So if you have a photo in mind that you’d like as a base image, select it! If you have a Canon 5D Mark III, you can turn on your “Live View” option and see both images together. This is called an overlay. With the live view option, you can see exactly how you want to frame and compose your second image on your base image.

Quick note: As with most things in technology, there are many options that you can choose/change. Here, I just give you the basic idea, but there is SO much more you can do! This tutorial is just meant to get you started and jump start your double exposure knowledge. Once you have a grasp on the basic concept, I would encourage you to dabble with your camera, read your manual, and discover all of the different options that your camera offers with double exposure. You can change blending options, how your camera saves the images, and much more.

Once your options are selected in the menu, tap your shutter release to get out of the menu and hit your live view button. Now you are ready to go.

For your base image (if you didn’t choose one you previously shot), find your subject, focus and meter, then take the picture. Your camera will have a little icon that will flash once you take the picture because it is telling you that it is in multiple exposure mode. Now when you move your camera to take your next image, you will see what I like to call a ghost image of the picture you just took. Your camera keeps the hazy image on your screen so that you can see what your next image will look like on top of your previous one. Cool, huh? Once you have your second image framed, don’t forget to put your focus box where you want it, and your camera will focus on that specific part of your second picture. And again, this is what my specific brand and model does; your camera could be different.

When you take the next photo, keep in mind that your SECOND picture will be seen in the dark areas of your first image. So where is a good place to start? Try taking a photo with negative space and only a minimal dark part. This could be a cityscape with the sky blown out or a simple silhouette of a person. Your second photo will now fill in the dark spots. Since you had negative space in your first photo, your second photo will kind of melt into the white nothingness.

To practice this concept, make sure you keep your manual handy! It helps SO much when you are learning a new technical skill. Practice taking pictures with your base image being a really light background or blown out sky with a dark silhouette. For your second image, try capturing something with lots of detail and color! I hope you guys have fun with this and are able to create some really beautiful images!! The options are endless. Just create whatever your heart desires. It can be something abstract as well. The shot below is straight out of the camera. The image was turned for my second image and it created a right angle.

*If you have done your research and your camera will not do a double exposure in camera, don’t lose heart. You can easily create a double exposure in Photoshop by opening the two images (use the same principles that we talked about above), and drag the second image onto your first (base) image. Once the pictures are on top of each other, lower the opacity of the second picture until you like what you see. Once the second picture’s opacity is lowered, you will start seeing the beautiful results. If this makes you feel totally lost because you have never used Photoshop before, you might consider taking our Photoshop for Bloggers course, as it will teach you all the basics, and then you can do this technique with ease! I just wanted to give you some idea of how else to achieve this in case your current digital camera does not have the capability. – Janae

Credits // Author and Photography: Janae Hardy.