Optimizing and Protecting your Images


One thing I get asked frequently is how do you go about protecting your photos on your blog? There are a lot of photo thieves and weirdo’s out there who have no issues stealing pictures of people, their families, and their children. It’s frustrating and it’s frightening; especially if you are one of the unfortunate mama’s who happen to stumble across a picture of your son being used on a t-shirt.

So far, I’ve been lucky enough to not have had a photo of my son (or my family) stolen…that I know of. But, that’s not because I’ve always been careful. When I first started blogging, I just like to assume that photos were so terrible that no one would even WANT to steal them. Now, with all of the posts I see of photos being snatched, I’m much more careful.

There are two things that I do to ensure that my photos remain mine: watermarking and saving photos specifically for the web.

How to Watermark and Protect your Images
in Photoshop/Photoshop Elements

While I usually just the text function in Photoshop to add my name to my images (since I have a habit of changing my site design and can’t settle on a definitive watermark). But, a lot of you have great designs that could work for a watermark if you want to place it on your photos to maintain some branding consistency throughout your site and design. Here’s an example of how to create a watermark using an image or logo in Photoshop.

Note: I don’t use Photoshop Elements, but this tutorial will work the same for Elements and Photoshop.


Open the image you want to use to create a watermark as well as the photo you want to watermark in Photoshop.

For the image that you use for the watermark, it’s best to start out with a larger image. The image that I’m using in this example is 500 pixels by 500 pixels. You’re going to be creating a brush, so you’ll be able to increase and decrease the brush size. But it’s always easiest to start larger and go smaller if you need to. You also want to make sure that you are using an image with a transparent background.

Here’s my logo image:

Again, since this is just a text design, I could have written it on my photo. But, since I want to create a brush that I can just stamp and go, I’ll take a few extra steps to create and save one to my brush gallery.


Now that you’ve created your image, it’s time to make a brush out of it. While still in the window where you’ve created your logo, you want to go up to the top to Edit > Define Brush Preset and then name your brush accordingly. For me, I just named it “watermark.”

Now, you should see your new watermark brush pop up in your default brushes.



Now you’re ready to watermark your photo. Just open the image you want to watermark (if you haven’t already) and choose your new brush from the brush selection drop down menu. You can choose any color for your watermark in the color selection palette to use for your brush. Keep in mind that if you create a brush, you won’t be able to use multiple colors in the brush itself. If you have a logo that has four or five colors, all of those colors will not show up in the brush. Once you choose your color, just stamp it wherever you want it!

One thing to keep in mind when you are watermarking your images, is watermark placement. Placing a watermark away from the main subject of your photograph is useless. Anyone can then snag your photo and crop your watermark out. I try to place mine ON my subject (like you see above) in an area where the mark can’t easily be cropped or cloned out. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that some part of your watermark is always touching your subject (and the more that is touching it, the more difficult it will be to steal).

After I watermark my images, I size them down using Florabella’s “Resize and Sharpen for Facebook” Action. If you don’t own this set and are looking for a free one, you can find one from Paint the Moon for free.


After I’ve resized my image to 960 pixels wide, I use the File > Save for Web & Devices setting to save my photos specifically for the internet. A lot of people have asked how this works and what good it does. By saving for Web & Devices, you are saving your image in a lower quality. This isn’t ideal for printing. Which means that if by chance someone does try to save your images from the web to their computer to use as their own, not only will your watermark be there, but the image itself will be of a very poor quality and not useful for proper printing.

I always use the Low Resolution setting when I save my images and then save them in a specific “web ready” folder on my desktop.

Keep in mind that this won’t prevent someone who really wants to steal your images from stealing them. There are all kinds ways to get around a watermark. But, my philosophy is that you can take steps to at least make it more difficult for them to swipe your beautiful photos.

Hope that helps some of you who have been asking about watermarking and protecting your photos!

Do you take any additional steps to protect your photos online?


Move to Manual: Wrapping it Up

Random Things

If you’ve missed any of the Move to Manual series so far, be sure to check it out!

We’ve spent the last several weeks covering all of the basic aspects of photography and how to use your camera. We’ve gone over the basics of composition and lighting; what aperture is; how shutter speed, iso and white balance can change your photos, and we’ve talked about metering. Now…it’s time to put it all together and start shooting in manual.

I set all of my shots up the same. Every single image that I take is set up the exact same, whether I’m indoors or out.

This tutorial isn’t that advanced or even all that detailed. But, as someone who learns by doing, sometimes, it helps just to know how someone else gets from point A to point B, so I didn’t want to leave it out. Keep in mind that no matter which way you decide to setup your shot, your photography won’t improve unless you practice. One of the biggest advantages that I’ve discovered with my 52 Faces project this year has been that I’ve had to shoot weekly. And in that time, I’ve seen my photography improve drastically. Because I’m practicing consistently.

Shooting in manual isn’t learned over night. It’s not something that you can perfect in just a few sessions. You have to practice. And practice. And then practice some more. Don’t get frustrated or discouraged. Just do it.

Here’s my method…keep in mind that my camera is always on Al Servo Auto Focus and Partial or Spot Metering Mode. These things are constant and don’t change, so they won’t need adjusting.

Set my Aperture

My depth of field and the bokeh that my lens creates is typically my top priority when I’m shooting. I want that creamy, dreamy effect in my images, so I always start out by setting my Aperture first. If I’m just shooting a single portrait, I start out at an f/stop of 2.0.

Set my Shutter Speed

Shutter Speed is the next thing I consider when I’m shooting. I know that if I’m shooting pictures of a moving toddler, that I’ll want something of at least 1/250 or 1/300. Noah’s quite the wiggle worm and is generally full of abounding energy. So, having a fast shutter speed that can freeze his movement is imperative.

Set my ISO

Since I’ve upgraded my camera, I don’t pay as much attention to my ISO as I used to. The capabilities of my lenses and the wider aperture paired with the quality ISO settings make shooting indoors or out fairly simple. I generally start my ISO at 200 and then I’ll work my way up a bit if I need to.

Set my White Balance

I use a Custom White Balance (the Kelvin setting) and change the light temperature according to where I’m at. Indoors, my Kelvin temperature usually ranges from about 4300-4600 depending on which room we’re in. Outdoors, I’m more likely to switch to one of the preset White Balance modes.

Test it Out

Once I get all of my settings adjusted, I take three or four test shots. When I’m doing test shots, I’m typically looking at four things:

  • How the f/stop is impacting my picture: Is my aperture too wide? Are there any aspects of my subjects face that are blurry and not in focus because I’ve got my aperture set wrong?
  • Whether or not the shutter speed is fast enough:Is there any camera shake or motion blur?
  • How much noise in the image: Is there obvious and noticeable noise or grain?
  • Is the color right: Are there strong tints of blue or red that need to be adjusted?

Once I check off all of these things and make my adjustments, I do another test shot. I repeat this several times (especially if I’m using a Custom White Balance and I’m having to adjust it accordingly) until I get the image that I want and see that my settings are good.

Meter & Shoot

Finally, I do my metering. Placing the metering spot on my subjects cheek, pressing halfway down, and then refocusing on the eye and click!

I do this same series of steps with every set of images. No matter where I’m shooting or who I’m shooting, the same setup occurs. The more you shoot (especially if you shoot in the same locations) you’ll learn to read the light and be able to guess your settings pretty spot on. I know almost exactly which settings I’ll use when I’m shooting indoors at our house. The light is usually the same, so most of my settings remain unchanged.

Again, keep in mind that shooting in manual comes more naturally the more that you practice!

I hope you guys learned at least a few things from this series! I’ve enjoyed all of your feedback and your comments here and on Facebook. I’m working on putting together and printable version of this series for those of you who have asked and emailed about it. It’s a few weeks in the making, so look for that to be released around the end of April.

I’m looking for suggestions for more series to come in the future! I’d love to know what you guys would like for me to share. Blogging? Blog Design? Editing? More photography tutorials? Leave me a comment and let me know what you think!


Move to Manual: Understanding Metering

Random Things

This is going to be the last tutorial in the Move to Manual Series! Next week, I’m going to go over setting up a shot and how I prepare my settings and position my subject. Next weeks post won’t go up until Tuesday because I want you guys to take a full week to review the tutorials I’ve already shared and get in some practice with metering before piecing everything together (unless you are already, which is GREAT!).

Today I’m going to go over metering. I won’t go too in depth with all of the different metering modes, but do want to explain what each of them are and when you’d be most likely to use them.

I have to admit, understanding how to meter changed my photography a bit. Everything about photography is subject to light and ensuring that your subject is properly exposed is a key factor in creating the difference between a snapshot and a portrait. Light can change every aspect of your image and, even though you can make some changes in post processing, having an image exposed correctly in camera makes everything easier when it comes time to edit an image (whether in Photoshop, Elements or Lightroom).

What exactly is metering?

Metering measures how the camera adjusts to brightness and light in an image. What metering essential does is examine how much light is surrounding your subject and then it decides how to properly expose the subject. This sounds simple enough, but it’s another way that your camera makes the decision for you until you start changing the settings up and telling your camera what to do. Unfortunately, on most SLR cameras, you can’t change the metering mode unless you are shooting in manual.

Let’s take a look at a few of the different metering modes…

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Evaluative Metering (Canon)/Evaluative or Matrix Metering (Nikon)

This is usually the default setting on most SLR cameras. It’s one of those “general purpose” settings (like Auto mode) that is designed to give you an all around decent exposure on an entire image. In this mode your camera is going to set the metering mode to expose the entire scene. I use Evaluative Metering when I’m shooting a landscape shot because I know that my camera is going to work to properly expose the entire image, rather than just parts of it. I will say that I have read a lot of posts in various photography forums by professional photographers who use Evaluative Metering when they shoot. Some do, some don’t. It’s one of those things that’s a matter of preference.

Center-Weighted Metering  (Canon & Nikon)

This metering mode is exactly what it says…it measures the amount of light in the center of the image (in your viewfinder) and works to expose it properly. I have never used Center Weighted Metering and really don’t much about it other than the basics of what it actually does.

Partial Metering (Canon)

Partial Metering is most effective when you are capturing backlit subjects. By metering off of your subjects face when they are backlit using the Partial/Spot Metering mode, you are better able to ensure that they are exposed properly and their faces can be seen.

Spot Metering (Canon & Nikon)

The only real difference I have found between Partial Metering and Spot Metering is the size of the area that is measured. It generally works the same as Partial Metering does for Canon.

You can find a really great article on the details and technical aspects of metering at Cambridge in Color. These guys really know their lighting and offer some great resources for really understanding how your camera reads light and measures color.

How I Meter an Image

I use Partial or Spot Metering when I am shooting. Truthfully, I have never noticed much of a difference in their abilities of properly exposing the image I’m trying to capture. I didn’t take my camera off of Evaluative Metering until last year when I attended a Photography Workshop and was taught how to effectively meter my images to ensure proper exposure of my subject. I shared the secret with my friend Michelle who swore by it also and says it completely changed the way that she captures her images.

Before I reveal how I meter, I want to show you an image that I took before this workshop so you can see how badly Evaluative Metering was exposing my images.

There were other settings I could have adjusted in my shot to have properly exposed this image and compensated for the image being underexposed. But, if I’d been using Partial or Spot Metering and metering my shot off of his skin, I’d have gotten an overall brighter image. Here’s another where I was using Partial Metering and setting my exposure off of his face instead of just letting the camera guess what I wanted exposed:

Hopefully you can see an obvious difference in the exposure of the skin tones in these two images. You wouldn’t think that the second image, shot indoors, would have a better exposure than the image shot outside. But, because of the difference in metering modes, it does.

So how did I do it?

Once I get all of my other settings fixed in camera, I select my focal point. When I’ve decided which focal point works best for the particular image that I’m shooting, I place my focal point on the subjects cheek (whichever cheek is closest to me, usually) and press my shutter button halfway down. This gives the camera the reading of what aspect and what tones in your image you want exposed. Once my camera has it’s metering set, I move my focal point up to the eye of my subject, let the camera focus itself and click.

Sometimes, especially when I’m taking pictures of Noah, my metering is off a bit. It happens and there really isn’t any way to prevent it (unless you’re photographing someone who won’t move).  For a long time, I really thought that metering was a complex and overly complicated aspect of photography that I would never understand. But, in all actuality, it’s pretty basic. It’s just you telling your camera what part of your image you want to expose. You can do this with anything: sunsets to create silhouettes, backlit photos to create gorgeous haze…when you understand and grasp how to use metering effectively, the options are pretty much endless.

Your only “homework” for this week is to practice with the difference metering modes! See if you can nail Spot/Partial metering and see what difference it makes in your portraits.


Move to Manual: Understanding Focal Points

Random Things

We are slowly winding down this series on understanding your camera a bit better and making that jump from Auto to Manual. I really appreciate all of the feedback that you guys have given and I hope that you are all enjoying this series as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it together. To view all of the posts in this series, be sure to check out the Move to Manual Button in the sidebar.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve received emails and comments from many of you who are loving the series but still feel like your photos aren’t quite where you want them to be. I’ve spent a while browsing through the Flickr Pool and visiting your blogs, and one thing that I noticed in several photos is that some of you are missing your Focal Points. The composition is good, the lighting is good, but the key areas of your image are slightly blurry. I know how frustrating this can be and it can ruin the look of an entire picture. So today, we’re going to learn to resolve that. The key to solving this issue lies with your Focal Points.

Pick up your camera and turn it on. Look through the eyepiece and set up like you are going to take a shot. Do you see those little dots within your viewfinder? Those are your Auto Focus Points.

Here’s an image of what they might look like depending on what type of camera you have. The one on the left is a Nikon, the one on the right is a Canon.

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I’ve already talked about using the rule of thirds and overcoming the desire to shoot with your subject in the center of the photograph all the time. But, being armed with that secret and tip for better composition won’t do you any good if your focal point is off. Most cameras are set to focus in the center by default. When you open your camera up for the first time, unless you change that setting, your camera is going to focus on the center point in your image. But there is a way that you can tell your camera where to focus. 

On my Canon 7D (and I’m going to assume on all SLR cameras) if you shoot in Auto or Program mode, you have no control over where you camera focuses. Your camera is going to choose a focal point for you (which is all the more reason for you to leave Auto Mode behind!). Since you’re shooting in manual now (and I hope that most of you are!), it’s time for you to be the boss and tell your camera where it is that you want to focus your shot.

First things first, you’ll  need to make sure that you camera is set to Auto Focus and not to Manual Focus.  For information on how to do this (as well as how to change the settings that we will be discussing in this post) please refer to your Camera’s User Manual!

There are three different types of Auto Focus Modes: One Shot, Al Servo and Al Focus.

One Shot (Canon)/AF-S: Auto Focus-Single (Nikon)

One Shot Focus/AF-S is used for subjects that are being perfectly still and won’t be moving in any way. Buildings, plants, etc. Something that you know isn’t going to wiggle or even breath heavy while you are composing your shot and getting ready to snap your image.

Al Servo (Canon)/AF-C: Auto Focus-Continuous (Nikon)

This is typically what my camera stays on. Al Servo Focus/AF-C is for shooting an object that might move…like a wiggly and rambunctious three year old boy. I highly recommend that if you are going to be shooting children, babies, or even flowers that might blow in the breeze, that you consider setting your camera to Al Servo Mode. It offers a bit more security in making sure that your shot is in focus when your subject might move.

Al Focus (Canon)/AF-A: Auto Focus-Automatic(Nikon)

This is the in between auto focus mode. Al Focus/AF-A will automatically switch your camera from One Shot/AF-S (when you have a stationary subject) to Al Servo/AF-C (a moving subject) if the subject moves any. I’ve never used this mode because I primarily shoot people, but if you do a lot of landscape or architectural shooting, this might be something for you to check out if you want that option.

Now that you’ve changed up your camera settings and chosen the Auto Focus mode that suits you best, let’s talk about the actual selection of a Focal Point. Again, you’ll need to refer to your cameras manual for how to do this on your camera since each make and model is a bit different.

Choosing a Focal Point

It’s a known rule that when you shooting images of people, you want the eyes to be the sharpest and clearest point in your image. That’s why you should always set your focal point on the eye of your subject. And I’m sure you’re now asking Which eye should I focus on? I have always heard (from other photographers and the various photography communities that I belong to) that you want to place your focal point on the eye that is closest to your lens. If your aperture is set properly, you should be able to focus on the eye closest to you and still get the other eye in focus as well.

As you can see in the image below, I chose Noah’s right eye as my focal point. Since I am right handed, I typically line my images up to the right (a habit I’m working on). That right corner tends to be my preferred focal point, depending on if I’m shooting horizontally or vertically.

 I don’t always focus on the eyes, though. Sometimes, when I’m going for more creative shots, I use different areas to focus on. For instance, in the photo below, I was going for a shot of just Little Man’s tiny feet. I set my focal point to his big toe and used a wider f/stop (a lower number) to active the bokeh in the background.

What happens if I miss my focal point?

Sometimes, especially when shooting children, you can miss your focal point. This happens to me sometimes, typically when I’m shooting with an aperture lower than 2.2 or so. When you use an aperture that wide, you have less of a focal plane and even the slightest movement can cause the image to blur. Take a look at the image below. At first glance, from farther away, it looks okay. But, if you zoom in on the eyes, you’ll see that I missed the focal point by just an inch or so. Instead of focusing on his eyes, I ended up focusing on his cheek. He probably wiggled or I moved when I clicked the image and it threw the whole thing off.

To Sum it Up…

Mastering focal points takes a LOT of practice. Especially if you are shooting babies, children or even antsy teenagers. It’s not something that I have mastered yet (nor do I think anyone ever gets it right in every single image). But, the key is to practice. Most cameras have a sweet spot when it comes to focusing. There are some areas that are sharper than others. Spend some time playing with the Auto Focus settings on your camera and see if you can find the spots that are sharpest for your particular camera. Remember, when shooting portraits focus on the eye that is closest to you. If you find that the other eye isn’t as sharp , try opening up your aperture a bit (a higher number) to get it in focus.

For this weeks Flickr Group Assignment, first I want you to find out how many Auto Focus Points your camera has. Then, find a few  inanimate objects and try out your focal points. Put one object in the front and the other slightly behind it. Start with a wide aperture (a low number…maybe around 1.8 or 2.0 just to give you some great bokeh) and focus on the object in front. Then the object in back. Now move on your kids or another person (or pet) that moves. PRactice, practice, practice nailing that focal point! Upload your photos to the Group Pool or share them on your blog and come leave the link. I’d love to see how this changes your images!


Move to Manual: White Balance

Random Things

Can you guys believe we are coming to the end of our Move to Manual journey?! It’s hard to believe that we started this just a few weeks ago and have already discussed so much. Are you guys learning a lot? I’ve enjoyed seeing all of you post your images over in the Group Flickr Pool and I hope that the feedback and the information so far has been helpful.

This week I’m going to talk a bit about White Balance and how having the correct white balance setting in camera can impact the amount of post-processing you have to do later and what you image will look like Straight out of Camera. Next week, I’ll be sharing the final bit of information on Focal Points and Metering, so make sure you guys are practicing because we’re getting ready to tie everything together!

What is White Balance?

White balance in an image ultimately measures the color of the light and how your image tones are captured. If you want to get really technical, there is a great article by Cambridge in Color on Understanding White Balance and how the different tones of the Blue, Reds and Greens are measured in an image. As with everything else in photography, it’s all about the lighting.

SLR cameras have pre-set White Balances. On my Canon 7D, I have nine different white balance options: AWB (auto white balance), Daylight, Shade, Cloudy/Twilight/Sunset, Tungsten Light, Fluorescent Light, Flash, Custom and Color Temperature.

(Note: See your camera’s manual for which White Balance Options are available on your particular camera and how to set/change the White Balance.)

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Each one of these White Balance settings controls the color tones in your image. Just like last week with the ISO tutorial, I took a series of shots using the various white balance settings on my camera.

Oftentimes (unless I’m shooting outdoors), I keep my White Balance on Auto. I have found that when I’m using natural light inside, I don’t have any issues with my Auto White Balance setting. However, when I shoot outdoors, I tend to change my white balance accordingly if my shots are too blue or too orange. If I’m shooting inside at night time, I will use the Tungsten or the Fluorescent White Balance to keep my image from looking too orange.

Some of you mentioned before in the Flickr Group that some of your images were tinted orange and you didn’t know how to change that. This is most likely due to your White Balance. If you find that your images have a heavy color preference to them, try changing up your white balance a bit. Just because the setting is specified as an outdoor setting (like “shade” or “cloudy”) doesn’t mean you can’t use it elsewhere. Sometimes, you’d be surprised by what works.

I took this photo of Noah a few weeks ago and my white balance setting was off (pardon the small, cropped image. I can’t seem to find the original and this was a screenshot from my iPhoto dock):

Do you see how orange and yellow the color tint is? It was because I had my white balance set on Tungsten Light because we’d been baking Cake Pops the night before and I was using my camera indoors at night. I realized right after I took the image that the White Balance was off and quickly corrected it. But I was so angry with myself when the images were uploaded because (of course) this image was my favorite. I was able to salvage it in Photoshop (though I don’t recommend ever being one of those photographers who just shoots however and then tries to save an image using post-processing), but I would have probably loved the image much more if the colors had been right and I’d be able to edit this image correctly like I normally would.

Your Assignment for this week:

Like last week, in order to really understand what the different settings on your camera do and how the impact your photo, I want you to take a series of shots using the various White Balance presets on your camera. If you want to get brave and try shooting these in full on manual, do it! I also want you guys to take some shots indoors using the Auto White Balance Setting, the Tungsten Setting and the Fluorescent Light Setting. Which setting gives you the least amount of color issues and makes your photos a bit less orange? Upload these to Group Flickr Pool and be sure to come back next Monday for the lesson on Focal Points & Metering! That will be the last lesson before I go over how to tie everything together and use all of this information to shoot in full manual!

If you’ve missed any of the Move to Manual Series so far, be sure to click the image in the sidebar or the link right here in the post to catch up!


Move to Manual: ISO

Random Things

If you’ve missed any of the Move to Manual posts so far be sure to check them out! We’ve talked about Composition & Perspective, Finding Great Light, Understanding Aperture and Understanding Shutter Speed. All of these techniques build off of one another to create a perfect balance, allowing YOU to successfully shoot in manual mode!

Do you guys remember film cameras? Do you remember going out to buy film, sorting through the different brands, the different speeds?

When I was on the Yearbook Staff in High School, I remember being in charge of taking pictures of the basketball teams. As you know, High School Gymnasiums aren’t the most well lit places and all of our games were at night. I remember taking my moms Canon Film Rebel with me and using only 400 Speed Film; which resulted in poorly lit photos that were mostly unusable.

ISO is for digital photography what film speed was for Film Photography…it measures your cameras sensitivity to light.

ISO is one of the big make it or break it capabilities for a lot of photographers when it comes time to buy a new camera. Commonly, digital cameras have settings of 100, 200, 400, 600, 800, and 1600. Some cameras don’t go any higher than 1600, while some go up to 20,000+. It all depends on the kind of camera you’ve purchased. My Canon Rebel XSI only had an ISO capability of 1600, which allowed for fantastic outdoor shooting, but not always the best shooting indoors.


Because your ISO controls how much noise or “grain” is in your image. Have you ever taken a picture and then uploaded it to your computer only to see that it wasn’t smooth and clear? That you had some roughness to the image that you didn’t know how to explain? That’s most likely because your camera (if you were shooting in Auto or another setting other than manual where you weren’t controlling your own ISO settings) was most likely using a higher ISO setting to compensate for low light.

The higher the ISO the more noise in the image and the more sensitive to light your camera is.

The lower the ISO the less noise in the image  and the less sensitive to light your camera is.

When I’m shooting outdoors, I start my ISO at around 200. I get no noise, let in enough light to not have to tamper with my aperture or my shutter speed and I still get a good exposure. When I’m shooting indoors on a good day (meaning, when it’s not so cloudy out that I’m not getting good light), I can shoot at an ISO of about 400-600.

Take a look at these images I took using the various ISO settings on my camera for a good look at how ISO can effect your images.

I shot all of these shots on the Av (aperture priority) setting on my camera just to demonstrate. They were all shot at an Aperture of 2.2 with various shutter speeds.


I could probably get by shooting at 1600, but would never really want to take my ISO up that high. If I can keep it under 800 then I’m doing good. And usually, I can compensate for lighting in other ways rather than messing with my ISO.

So now that you understand a bit about ISO and what it can do to your photos, it’s time to experiment.

Find an inanimate object lying around your house (similar to what you did with the third assignment when you practiced learning Aperture) and take some pictures at each one of your cameras different ISO settings. See how high it goes before you start to see a lot of noise. Don’t forget to upload your photos to the Move to Manual Flickr Group! I’ve enjoyed seeing your shots over the last few weeks and I have had several of you message me and send emails saying how much you’re learning! Don’t hesitate to post questions in the comment section or on my Facebook Page! I usually come around to check out the Flickr Uploads on Friday so you guys have all week to practice your shots!

Next week, I’ll be back to tie up a few lose ends on understanding a bit about White Balance, Focal Points and Metering. Then, the week after (March 12) we’ll be pulling everything together and get your shooting in manual!


Understanding Aperture & Depth of Field

Random Things

In case you missed the first two installments of the Move to Manual Series, so far we’ve talked about composition and perspective in your photographs and how to find great light. Make sure you check these two posts out!

My desire to learn photography and own an SLR camera came from the desire to achieve beautiful photos. Those crisp, sharp images where part of a photo was in focus and the rest was blurry? Those images mesmerized me. I spent hours scouring the internet looking for tutorials on how to achieve that effect. I kept getting words like aperture and depth-of-field but had virtually no idea what they meant or how I was supposed to apply them to my photography.

In my opinion, next to knowing where to find great light, aperture is the single most important aspect of achieving a great photo. The photos that you see where a small, minuscule amount of the image is in focus and everything else just sort of fads away? Those photos are created and controlled by your cameras aperture.

This is probably the most complicated and frustrating part of learning to work your camera, but once you grasp this and can understand the power that your aperture holds and how to utilize it, the rest is much easier to  pick up and put into place.

In short, your aperture controls the depth of field. Depth of field controls how much of a photo is in focus. If you have just a small amount of your image in focus, then you have what we call a shallow depth of field. If you have a large portion of your image in focus, then you have what we call a wide depth of field.

When understanding depth of field, it’s important to understand how depth of field works. Focus in an image doesn’t register in points, but rather in planes. This means that everything in same plane as the object you are trying to focus on is going to be in focus, while everything outside of that plane is going to be blurry. For example,  in the photo below I wanted to focus more on the soldiers that Little Man was playing with, rather than just on him. I used a shallow depth of field to make sure that I just caught the toys in focus and not him in the background. As you can see, the area with the circle around it is on the same plane as my focal point, so this area is also in focus.

And again here with the trains. The area to the right and left of the train is in focus, as well as the area above and below it because they are in the same focal plane. Whereas the area that is closest to the camera and the area farthest away from the camera are out of focus because they are not on the same plane.

In the photo below, pretty much the entire photo is in focus because I’m using a wider depth of field. I wanted to capture everything that was going on, instead of just pieces of it, so there isn’t a lot of the image that is out of focus.

What controls your depth of field? Aperture.

Aperture is the measure of the amount of light that your camera lets in. It can opened or closed to allow for more light or less light. The larger the opening, the more light that will enter into your camera. The smaller the opening, the less light that will be let into your camera.

Amy compares aperture to having your pupils dilated in her workbook. If you open your eyes up really wide, you let in tons of light and everything gets blurry. Well, when you open your aperture up really wide to let in lots of light, you get an image that doesn’t have a lot in focus (shallow depth of field) and things are blurry.

Whereas when you squint your eyes to focus on something in more detail, you are letting in less light and are able to see things more clearly. That’s the same as using a SMALL aperture. If you use a small aperture and a small opening, you keep light from getting in and end up with more of your image in focus (wider depth of field).

Let me go over that one more time, because I know how confusing it can get….

  • A larger opening in your camera (aperture) lets in a lot of light which will result in less of the image in focus (shallow depth of field).
  • A smaller opening in your camera (aperture) lets in just a little bit of light which will result in more of the image in focus (wider depth of field).

How do you measure Aperture?

Aperture is measured in f-stops. These are the little numbers you see on the end of your camera’s lens. Numbers like f/1.4, f/2.8 or f/5.6. These numbers measure the size of the hole in your lens that lets light in (your aperture). Your aperture settings are controlled by your LENS and not your camera. This is why you will hear professional photographers recommending that someone upgrade their lens before they upgrade their camera. Because most photographers want the lowest possible number they can get on their lenses.

For example, I own a Canon 50mm 1.4 and a Canon 50mm 1.8. Both of these are good lenses (and I highly recommend the 1.8 to anyone who is looking for a portrait lens without breaking the bank. They are available for both Canon & Nikon for less than $150), but the 50 mm 1.4 has a better aperture.

This is the part that gets tricky, so I encourage you to read and re-read this section until it registers. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t quite get it to start with. I had to write it down on a piece of paper and keep it with my camera for a few weeks until I finally “got it.”

The LARGER the f-stop number (such as f/12 or f/15, etc) the SMALLER the aperture’s opening (the hole that let’s light in).

The SMALLER  the f-stop number (such as f/1.4 or f/2.8) the LARGER the aperture’s opening (the hole that let’s light in).

F-Stops are fractions and we could spend hours going over how the inside of a camera works, etc. But the main thing to remember is that the bigger the hole (which means a SMALLER number), the more light that you let in so the more blur you get in your image. The smaller the hole (which means a HIGHER number) the less light you let in, which means that more of the image is in focus and there is less blur.

Typically when I’m shooting portraits or pictures of the little man, I keep my aperture at about 1.8 or 2.0, to create a softness around his face and help him stand out from the background. If I’m shooting pictures of more than one person, I’ll use an aperture that’s a bit larger. I read somewhere that a good rule of thumb to keep everyone’s face in focus is to go with the largest aperture that matches the number of people you are photographing. For example, if I’m photographing two people, I’d want to shoot at f/2.8. If I was photographing five people I’d shoot on f/5.8, etc. Since I don’t do a lot of group portraiture, I can’t attest to how accurate this is, but it seems to work.

As we continue to learn more about shooting in manual and how to control lighting, you will learn that most photographers build their settings around the aperture setting. I always set my aperture first and then the rest of my settings around it. I love the creaminess and softness that it adds to the background. That creamy, blurry background is called Bokeh and is the bee-knees when it comes to portraits.

Is your head spinning right now?! Don’t get overwhelmed! I’m going to use a easy and pretty popular “homework” method to help you guys understand aperture a bit better.

Take a look at your camera and notice that it has an Aperture Setting, usually depicted by an “A” or the letters “Av.” This means that YOU get to set the aperture and your camera will control the rest of the settings to give you a properly exposed image. Set your camera on this mode so that you can practice applying what we’ve just learned about Aperture.

Homework for the Week:

Grab a toy, a stuff animal, or a just some object that you can photograph and set it in front of you (near a window or outside!! Don’t forget to search for great light!). Take a series of pictures testing out different aperture settings. If your lens will go all the way down to 1.8 shoot the object at f/1.8, f/4, f/7 and f/12. Play with the numbers and the aperture and see what you get. Take some time to examine how the numbers change your depth of field and the bokeh in the background. Upload your photos to the Group Flickr Pool so Amy & I can see what you guys have been learning!

Don’t hesitate to ask any questions in the comment section if something isn’t quite making sense! Make sure you come back next week for Amy’s post on Shutter Speed. And be sure to check in tomorrow for a chance to win a fabulous Camera Strap from my Featured Sponsor: A Diva & 3 Dudes Design!


Move to Manual: Finding Great Light

Random Things

Thanks so much to all of you who have provided such awesome feedback and encouragement on the Move to Manual series I’m co-hosting. I mentioned last week that I’ll be partnering in this series with my friend and fellow photographer Amy Earle of Simply B Photos! Amy’s a remarkable photographer and the brains behind all of the family photos you see here on my blog.

Today, I’m sending you guys her way to check out her tutorial on how light affects your photos. She’s got some great insight on what to look for and what to avoid when you’re shooting outdoors!

I’ll be back over here next Monday to talk about aperture and how it impacts your photos!

And just because I don’t want to do a post without a photo….here’s a fun snapshot of little man.

Head over to Simply B to learn more about lighting >>>


Move to Manual: Composition & Perspective

Random Things

I have been completely overwhelmed by everyone’s response to this series! I had no clue when I started pondering the idea that it would be so well received. So many of you have emailed, Facebooked and tweeted me your appreciation (which  is quite flattering considering the series hasn’t even officially begun).

I wanted to make an exciting announcement before I begin!

My very best friend, mentor and fellow photographer Amy from Simply b Photos will be partnering with me during this series! She’s offering to share her skill, technique and knowledge on all things photography during this series and I couldn’t be more excited to have her. She’s just getting back from an extended vacation (remember me mentioning how jealous I was of a friend who just jetted off to California? Yeah..) so she’ll be sharing next week on Exposure and Lighting as well as in the coming weeks as we get more in depth with how to work your cameras. I was already shooting in Manual when I met Amy, but her photography is breathtaking and I’ve learned more from watching her work, sharing hundreds of conversations sitting across from each other on the couch and participating in her Professional Workshop than I could ever have learned anywhere else. You guys will want to hear what she has to say and take to heart her lessons. She’s a fantastic teacher and the passion she has for photography is contagious.

All that being said…let’s jump into the series!

I spent a lot of time debating where to begin. I thought of diving right in and discussing aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. But, then I remembered what I struggled with the most (though I didn’t realize it at the time) when I was getting started:

Composition & Perspective

It makes little difference how well you know your camera and how technically sound you are in your abilities as a photographer if you don’t know how to capture an image worth looking at. I am going to assume that most everyone that will be reading this series is interested in learning to take better portraits, so Amy & I will be approaching this series from that perspective (shooting people and children). Truly great portraiture is about capturing a moment too precious to interrupt.

As mothers, we are all too often tempted to grab our cameras and ask our children to say “Cheese!” or to “Smile for the Camera!” I remember growing up going to sit in front of the camera for school pictures and the “photographer” behind the lens yelling “Say Cheese!” to every child that sat on the stool. Even now, whenever I hear that, those are the kinds of photos that I think of. Those posed, forced smile photos that stir no emotion and bring back no feelings or memories. Just a child in their best clothes sitting on a stool in a cafeteria.

As Little Man has gotten older and really started to explore the world around him (and by “explore” I mean demolish, trample and make messes), I’ve been able to capture some exciting and memorable moments. All without walking around with the camera in my hand and hollering “Cheese!” One of my favorites is this one of the husband and Little Man at Christmas, taken by our Christmas Tree. This past season was the first year that Little Man has really been old enough to get into the spirit of the holidays. The presents, the ornaments, the lights…it was all brand new to him. The evening we put the tree up he was just mesmerized.

This photo represents every single emotion I watched Little Man experience during the holidays: excitement, wonder, mesmerization. Had I told the two of them to look at me and smile, I would have taken away from that moment. I would have popped the bubble of emotion and excitement that was being experienced and this photo would have been like a thousand other snapshots that I’d taken: devoid of meaning or emotion.

Have you been taking images that are nothing more than snapshots taken with a fancy camera? Are you interrupting the moments you’ve been attempting to capture by trying to force a smile or a reaction? What can you do different from a photographic perspective to change that?

It’s All in the Details

I think Amy said it best in her workbook: Who We are is in the details: the way we curl our hair, the jewelry we wear, the perfume we love…

Attention to the details in my photography is something that I am striving to do more of. I have a strong passion and love for lifestyle portraiture and one of the key aspects of that is attention to detail.

And, as a mother of a boy who is growing way too fast, the details of who he is are becoming more and more important to me.

Little Man was born with these beautiful, long eyelashes. I’m not exactly sure where he got them (I think from my dad, who has always had long eyelashes…but managed to skip passing that gene on to his daughters), but everyone has always complimented him on how long and beautiful they were. One day, while taking some snapshots of Little Man in the floor of our living room, I saw the opportunity to snag a shot at an angle that would enhance them.

Similarly, Little Man was born with a head full of dark hair. Everyone at the hospital was amazed by how thick his hair was as a newborn. Over time it has lightened up, but its thickness remains (that trait, he definitely gets from me). But, despite his long, thick hair, this child hates to have a haircut. Which is why when you see him, it’s most likely brushing the collar of his shirt and hanging in his eyes. I have dozens of photos of his cute little face all covered up by his long bangs. Not too long ago, he realized  that he could blow his hair out of his face. He thought it was the funniest thing ever and spent hours running around telling me to “Wook! Wook! I blow my hair!”

What details in your own life have you been overlooking that you could capture? A favorite toy your child carries? A birth mark?

The Rule of Thirds

This is the only photography “rule” that you will hear me refer to and actually rely on. According to Wikipedia the Rule of Thirds says:

…that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections.

That says that there is an area in a photo that your eye is naturally trained to visit first…and it’s not the dead center. By centering your images, you leave nothing for your eye to explore. It’s dull, uneventful, and leaves nothing to be desired when glancing over it. By not centering your images, you’re giving viewers a chance to linger a bit longer over the photo. You’re creating an atmosphere that is more pleasing and more emotional.

When I first started shooting I was under the impressions that every shot needed to be in the dead center. I would chase my toddling son around (saying, “Noah! Look at mommy! Over here, Noah!” which, as I hope you learned already is also a no-no) trying to get him to sit still long enough to center him. Take a look at this early photo of the husband and Little Man:

Now, while there are about a million and one things wrong with this photo (on camera flash and nasty shadows?! Eeep!), one of the biggest issues is that it’s completely centered. All you see when you look at this photo (besides those terribly tacky pictures in the background) is the subject. You see this photo and immediately move on because there’s nothing else for your eye to explore. Whereas, in the photo above of Little Man, you linger a bit longer. Explore the image before moving on. That’s what you want your photos to do…cause someone to pause and really take in what it is you are trying to capture.

So…Did you learn anything?

I promised in the introduction of this series that I was going to generate some “homework” assignments to get you guys going and testing out some of the things that I talk about here. If you haven’t already, head over to join the Move to Manual Flickr Pool so that you can share your images with everyone else! I started out the “assignments” by asking each of you to upload a photo as a jumping off point reference. I’d love to see how far you all come in the next few weeks as we progress through using your camera and understanding the manual function.

Now, for this weeks assignment, I’m challenging you take three different photos:

  • Photo One: Capture a photo that tells a story or showcases an emotion. Follow your child around for a bit and snap photos of them playing. Don’t interrupt their playtime or intercede in the little moments…just shoot. And see what you come up with.


  • Photo Two: Pay attention to the details. Like Amy said, we all have details. We all have minuscule little nuances that make up who we are. Seek those out in your day-to-day life or in your children, then capture it in a photo.


  • Photo Three: Purposely avoid shooting a photo straight on and centered. Step to the side and change up your angle a bit before shooting. Rearrange yourself before shooting and see what a difference using the rule of thirds can make!

Go grab your cameras and start shooting! Be sure to upload your assignment photos to Flickr so Amy & I can come leave you guys feedback! I’m planning to only post these tutorials on Monday’s, but there were a few more aspects of Composition that I wanted to cover before jumping into Lighting and Exposure, so be sure to come back for those on Wednesday before Amy shares her knowledge on Monday!


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© 2019 • Courtney Kirkland • Writer, Designer, Creative


courtney kirkland

live life known.