8 Reasons why I Switched to CloudSpot from Pixieset

Pixieset vs CloudSpot Showdown: The Best Client Photo Gallery for Photographers.

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After 6 years I finally cut ties with Pixieset to move to CloudSpot to deliver my client photo galleries, and I couldn’t be happier. If you’re reading this blog it’s safe to assume you are thinking about doing the same thing. So here the 8 Reasons I Switched to CloudSpot from Pixieset (and 2 ways CloudSpot can improve!)

When I first signed up with pixieset 6 years ago they were the king of client photo gallery services. But today they fail to have grown into this mobile first world we all work and live in. Pixieset has become the old Ford Mustang, still looks good on the outside but take a closer look and its falling apart at the seems. This compared to the fresh new Tesla packed with innovative technology to make the ultimate in experiences, that is CloudSpot.

Note: When looking to client photo gallery alternatives CloudSpot reached out to ask if I would give them a shot, I did, I fell in love, and now I am happily a brand ambassador for CloudSpot, all because of these 8 reasons I will list below. Therefore this article does contain affiliate links and I will receive a commission from sales made through the links in this article but at no additional cost to you.

CloudSpot is a refreshing take on what delivering a photo gallery to your client should be. It should be fun, exciting, immersive, seamless, and unrestrictive. If you don't feel that way when you deliver a photo gallery to your clients, imagine how your client feels? 

What CloudSpot understands is that your photography is a service and not a product, and when it comes to providing a great service you have to deliver an experience the client will enjoy every step of the way. Even after the shoot. And I think we can all agree that delivering your photos via Dropbox is less than an exciting way to receive photos.

So let me break down the 8 Reasons I Switched to CloudSpot from Pixieset.

1: Price $

Let’s say in a year you shoot 5 weddings and 10 engagements total 6gb of storage. Thats a lot when you are just getting started!

I have it written in my contract to hold photos for the client for one year. That means you would need 12gb of storage minimum. Last years photos (6GB) Plus this years photos (6 more GB)

With Pixieset that would cost you $16 a month. With CloudSpot it would cost you half that at just $8 and you would still have enough storage to shoot 4 more weddings! 

Cloudspot offers great storage options that grow with your new business

Cloudspot offers great storage options that grow with your new business

2: Delivering Video

I’m a Wedding Photographer, not a videographer but that doesn’t stop me from taking my photos and turning them into a slideshow with Animoto to really wow my clients! Creating these slideshows in Animoto takes just 10 minutes and have been my biggest source of referrals (and Google loves video too! Great for SEO) Unlike other client photo gallery systems, Cloudspot allows you to not only showcase the video, but allow your clients to download it too! When they can download it, they can share it :) Here is an article with more information. https://help.cloudspot.io/en/articles/2577287-deliver-videos-with-google-drive-and-cloudspot

3: Vendor Photo Galleries

Sending photos to vendors is a great marketing tool to build rapport and reciprocity towards your photography business. I use to have to create multiple photo galleries if I wanted to send any photos to vendors. These additional photo galleries were also counted towards my storage limit! In CloudSpot I can use the same main gallery that I sent to the couple but make a sub folder that only vendors that I send the link to, can see. This saves on storage space and confusion from creating multiple photo galleries from the same event.

Florists, Planner, Venues, Bakery, DJ, all of these vendors love when you share photos with them showing off their talents. Cloudspot makes it easy!

Florists, Planner, Venues, Bakery, DJ, all of these vendors love when you share photos with them showing off their talents. Cloudspot makes it easy!

4: Capturing Contact Info

If you are not capturing contact info for those who view your photo galleries you are missing out on a HUGE opportunity to make money. With other client photo galleries you can capture emails addresses and then those email addresses are tied to a specific gallery. In theory that sounds fine. But around the holidays I send out an email to everyone who has registered to view a photo gallery to give them a coupon if they want to purchase a print as a gift for a loved one. So I have to go through every single gallery to download the emails of those who registered one by one. Shoot a lot of weddings and engagements and that’s a lot of emails you have to go through! CloudSpot solves this problem by putting all email addresses into a master contacts folder. Within the folder you can name and tag those who have registered. You can tag the Fathers of the family sessions you shoot and send them a coupon for Mother’s Day. You can tag the Mothers and send them a special offer for a boudoir session in time for Valentine’s Day. You can tag friends of the married couple and send them a coupon to fill their newly married friends home with prints from their wedding! This feature alone will make CloudSpot pay for itself in no time! 

5: Upload Different File Types

If you’ve been shooting for a while you have no doubt got a text saying “Hey I’m trying to get our photos printed and they won't without a print release?? Help!”

CloudSpot is more than just a client photo gallery because you can upload 7 different file types including PDFs. Now when I deliver a client photo gallery I upload the PDF version of the clients print release as well. This keeps everything in one place and saves me from a potential “text-mergentcy” while I’m driving to my next shoot.

6: Custom Client Photo App

With Pixieset creating and delivering an app of your clients photos is a horrendous process. You had to have 2 separate photo galleries, one for the app, one for the actual gallery itself. (Why?) No information would transfer over from the original photo gallery, creating double the work for you (Why?) Then you would have to send 2 separate emails, 1 with a link to the online photo gallery and another with a link to download their app (Don’t people already get enough emails??) Then within the app photos are view only, you could not save the photos if you wanted to, this causes your clients who live in this mobile first world to result to screenshotting their photos before posting them online (Uhhgggggg!) 

Cloudspot lets you create an app from your client photo gallery in just one click!

Cloudspot lets you create an app from your client photo gallery in just one click!

CloudSpot makes the whole process a breeze! Upload your photos, send your client a link to their app! They are prompted with “grandma proof” instructions to install the app on your phone. On the backend you can allow users to download their photos to their phones! And if that wasn’t cool enough you can enable watermarks on downloads! So your client can still have an incredible viewing experience but you can keep your photos protected!

There you have it. While I am happy with my move to CloudSpot for my client photo galleries (and am reminded daily with the continuous updates and new features) there are a few things that I would love to see CloudSpot implement.


1: Auto Expire Emails (Note CloudSpot says they are currently working on this one!)

It’s written in my contract that I will hold on to images for the couple for 1 year after the delivery date. Having the ability for CloudSpot to automatically email those who have registered for a certain gallery to let them know it’s about to expire and include a coupon code to any last minute prints would simply mean I wouldn’t have to remember to do it!

2: Offer Both Auto and Self Fulfill Items in the Store

Currently when creating a catalog of items to sell in your online store you have to choose whether the catalog will be all Auto fulfilled or Self fulfilled. Auto fulfilled means a client will purchase a print and CloudSpot will send that photo off to the lab and the lab will send it directly to your client. Letting you earn money without any additional work! This is great! But there are some items I like to either purchase from another online retailer or I offer a custom product made up of several prints layered together. Having the ability to have 1 catalog and be able to choose which products are auto fulfilled and which are self fulfilled would be fantastic! 

There are clearly far more positives about CloudSpot as a client photo gallery. And while it may not be perfect (At least until those two above are added) I like that CloudSpot stands for something.

YOU!

It is clear in everything CloudSpot does and implements that they are giving you, the photographer every advantage you can when it comes to really leaving a lasting impression on your clients. CloudSpot understands to its core that you can turn a last impression into a LASTING impression.

TL;DR I believe that CloudSpot client photo gallery system is the best way to showcase, deliver, and sell your photos online. They have many features that the outdated Pixieset does not and they are always adding more features based on community input. If you want a Client Photo Gallery that makes your life easier, wows your clients, and can make you money, CloudSpot is the right choice for you. You can sign up for a free forever plan, no credit card required. Deliver a beautiful gallery to your client today!

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6 Best Photography Books Beginners Who Want To Take Action

There is no shortage of ways to learn photography. From Photography tutorials on Youtube, Photography Podcasts, and Photography courses and workshops it is easy to forget about the golden standard and the way many beginners learned photography for a century before the internet, BOOKS!

It may seem weird learning photography from books which are traditionally full of text but the truth is books cost a lot of money to produce and therefore the content in them is much higher quality than the majority of free resources. I can tell you first hand these are the best photography books for beginners and if you are serious about learning photography these books will guide you wherever you want your camera to take you.

This article contains affiliate links to the books listed and if you purchase one of the photography books below I may receive a small commission but this has in no way influenced my real world experience using each and every book listed below.

1: Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson

Veteran photographer Bryan Peterson explains the fundamentals of light, aperture, and shutter speed and how they interact with and influence one another. With an emphasis on finding the right exposure even in tricky situations, Understanding Exposure shows you how to get (or lose) sharpness and contrast in images, freeze action, and take the best meter readings, while also exploring filters, flash, and light.


2: The Photographers Eye by Michael Freeman

Design is the single most important factor in creating a successful photograph. The ability to see the potential for a strong picture and then organize the graphic elements into an effective, compelling composition has always been one of the key skills in making photographs.

In this book, Photographer Michael Freeman teaches how digital photography has brought a new, exciting aspect to design with instant feedback from a digital camera allows immediate appraisal and improvement. This has had a profound effect on the way digital photographers take pictures.


3: Advancing your Photography by Marc Silber

Marc Silber has not only been a guest on the Beginner Photography Podcast but has interviewed some of the world's best photographers and learned their secrets for stunning composition. Now he passes their wisdom along to you in an easy to understand handbook. Too many photographers get to a certain level and find it hard to advance. We're bombarded with so many videos, books and people telling you what to do it can be overwhelming. Marc wrote Advancing Your Photography so you could have one easy to read handbook to carry with you. All his tips are based on decades of photography and the deep wisdom of the fantastic photographers he's interviewed.


4: Picture Perfect Practice by Roberto Valenzuela

If you’ve been frustrated and overwhelmed by the challenges of real-world locations and executing a great image–or if you simply want to become a better shooter but don’t know where to start– Roberto Valenzuela’s Picture Perfect Practice gives you the tools and information you need to finally become the kind of photographer you’ve always wanted to be: the kind who can confidently walk into any location, under any lighting condition, with any subject, and know that you can create astonishing photographs that have a timeless impact.


When photographing people, you can have a great composition, perfect light, and the right camera settings, but if your subject doesn’t look right―if the pose is off―the shot will not be a keeper. Posing is truly a crucial skill that photographers need to have in order to create great photographs. If you’re looking to improve your ability to pose your subjects―whether they’re men, women, couples, or groups―best-selling author and photographer Lindsay Adler’s The Photographer’s Guide to Posing: Techniques to Flatter Everyone is the perfect resource for you.


6: Fast Track Photographer by Dane Sanders

Competition in the photography industry has never been fiercer. But in this empowering guide, acclaimed photographer Dane Sanders reveals that the key to success is to stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and start focusing on your most powerful resource: you.


BONUS: Magnum Contact Sheets by Kristen Lubben

Magnum Contact Sheets
By Kristen Lubben

This groundbreaking book presents a remarkable selection of contact sheets, revealing how the most celebrated Magnum photographers capture and edit the very best shots. Addressing key questions of photographic practice, the book illuminates the creative methods, strategies, and editing processes behind some of the world’s most iconic images. The book is a bonus because it is less actionable than others on this list and focuses more on the stories from the photographers who took the photos. This is a must read.


Check out more recent articles from the Beginner Photography Podcast

Photographing Historic Buildings

Photographing Historic Buildings

Taking on the mission of photographing historic architecture is a great way for any beginner to learn the fundamentals of photography. Seeing as you won’t need to move quickly to chase around your subjects, do yourself a favor and get a tripod. Apart from stability, tripods can give you the time and space to figure out the best settings on your camera in order to capture the best images.

Another important aspect to note for this type of photography is how to maximize depth of field, an element that can sharpen the sense of space in your photographs. For up-close to medium distance shots of historic buildings, Light Stalking advises using wide angle lenses from 12mm to 35mm so you can shoot from the widest angle of view possible. This is especially useful in cramped cities where other buildings and objects in the street will get in the way of taking shots that include your entire subject.

In relation to this, you should get used to shooting at a smaller or higher aperture and lower ISO, a technique which Tech Radar correctly recommends for maximizing depth of field. Armed with a tripod in such settings, you can freely set slower shutter speeds to get the correct amount of exposure. This particular technique is all about reducing the amount of light that hits the sensor of your camera, forcing you to use as little light as possible – and as much time as you need – to get your perfect shot. Once you get used to shooting buildings from a tripod this way, it will be easier to then experiment with different settings (and angles) as you’ll have more control of the available light.

Another good way for any budding historical architecture photographer to start is by focusing on famous historical structures. This will allow you to compare your own shots with that of famous photographers, which can ultimately provide insight on your personal style and approach to the art of photography. New York City is one place that’s filled with photo opportunities, as it has plenty of places to practice your skills. Apart from NYC’s wide range of iconic buildings, James McGrath from Yoreevo states that in 2015 there were 13,500 buildings that were over six stories within the city. This gives you ample opportunity to photograph buildings that are not famous. You can then compare how well you do with a building that you have no reference for, with a building that has photographed thousands of times. As long as you have your camera and tripod, you can turn any walk or commute through Manhattan into a crash course on architectural photography throughout the different stages of the old city’s history. It’s not uncommon for both tourists and locals to go on this type of photo walk, so the next time you’re in the Big Apple, you can even look for amateur photography groups organizing either free or local teaching tours. If you’re using a DSLR, it would also be a great way to get instant feedback from fellow amateurs and veteran photographers alike.

Finally, you should also try taking pictures of the same subjects in both sunny and nighttime conditions. This can give you a much greater sense of how light dictates the mood of any shot. While shooting in the dark can be difficult, the play of light on historic architecture after dark opens up new avenues of photographic storytelling – valuable insight for anyone who considers themselves to be students of photography. Thomas B. Wilson in his guest post here on The Beginner Photographer advises that "the best way to get a feel for this is to practice and figure out how best to handle the duel between natural darkness and man-made light.”

Want More Photography Tips to Grow Your Skills?

23 Best Photography Youtube Channels To Follow Today

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    If you are anything like me you learn better through video than text. There are so many resources online to learn photography but Youtube is my favorite. Youtube is hands down the best source for incredible photography tutorials, tips, and even gear reviews. We photographers are visual creatures and youtube caters to the learning center of our brain perfectly. But with youtube being a place where anyone can create and upload content, it can be time consuming to curate a list of photography channels you must subscribe to that will provide endless recurring content. So I did the hard work for you so you can get back to shooting! The Youtube Channels below are in no particular order and no one is better than another. If you subscribe to even half of these youtube channels I guarantee you will be busy enough to catapult your knowledge of photography.

     

    1: SLR Lounge

    The SLR Lounge youtube page is an extension of the popular SLR Blog. Their youtube channel is full of tips for wedding and portrait photographers. From Posing and lighting to editing and gear talk, SLR Lounge has something for just about everyone new and experienced with a camera

    2: Photos in Color

    Photos in Color is a unique Youtube channel. While there are plenty of on location photoshoots there is a wide range of lightroom and editing tutorials too. Eds has a great way of communicating difficult ideas for newer photographers in a clear and concise way that everyone will understand. This makes Photos in color a must subscribe!

    3: FStoppers

    If you are unfamiliar, FStoppers is another popular photography blog. Their youtube channel has some real Gems. From their community critique series, their Photographing the world series, and tons of behind the scenes videos, it's clear they are committed to producing quality photography education

    4: Taylor Jackson

    Taylor Jackson not only is a past guest of the Beginner Photography Podcast, (Click Here to Listen) but he has one of the best youtube channels focused on photography. From his “A Photographer In” Series where is travels the world and shows you how he takes the amazing photographs he takes, to mounting a gopro to his camera and taking you along with him to full weddings where you can see his camera settings while hes shooting. Taylor Jackson is always coming up with new and interesting photography videos that keep you captivated.

    5: Peter Mckinnon

    Peter Mckinnons popularity on youtube has exploded in the past year and its clear to see why. Peters videos have incredible content and production quality. With so many tutorials you are bound to not only learn something but you will be incredibly entertained! His photography vlog is also insightful and educational! Some of Peters tutorials are not incredibly in-depth but I’d be lying if I told you I hadn't picked up a tip or two from him.

    6: Nigel Danson

    Nigel is a landscape photographer who does an incredible job at taking us along with with him as he shoots some of the worlds most beautiful locations. He talks us through whats going on in his head and why he's making the decisions he's making. When it comes to landscape photography there is a huge difference between good and great, and Nigel shows you what it takes, the mindset to have to be great.

    7: Craft and Vision

    David duChemin is a world renowned photographer who has shot on assignment in all 7 continents for just about every publication over the past several decades. Craft and Vision is a weekly themed video series aimed at helping you forget about megapixels and focusing on the art of photography, the connection you can make through photography, and the story you can tell through photography. Andrews videos are incredibly thought provoking and equality enjoyable. This is a must subscribe channel!

    8: Advancing your Photography

    Host Marc Silber is another guest of the podcast, you can check out his interviews back from interview 65 ( Click Here to Listen ) and 97 ( Click Here to Listen ). Marc has been shooting since the 1960s and I am thankful that with the internet we have a place for him to share his incredible knowledge of photography with the world. He interviews some of the worlds best photographers like Annie Leibovitz, Bob Holmes, and Joe McNally.  Marc has a knack for asking the right questions that challenge both the photographer he is interviewing and the viewer.

    9: Thomas Heaton

    Thomas Heaton is a favorite among landscape photographers both experienced and new to the genre. Thomas’ videos are like watching him achieve a goal. They start with an intro, why he wants the shot, the challenges, the gear, the journey to the location, arriving, and then tips on how he achieves the shot he wants. His videos are more vlog style than purely instructional but that behind the scenes shows the reality of what it takes to get a worthy landscape photo.

    10: Karl Taylor

    Karl Taylor is a commercial advertising photographer and educator. Spend just 5 seconds watching any of his videos and its clear he is extremely knowledgeable about lighting and product photography. Karl often brings you into his studio where he shows you why a single bottle of whiskey can take a dozen lights to photograph. Karl not only shows you how to shoot it right in camera, but he then will show you how much work the image takes in photoshop to polish it. Even if you are not a product photographer seeing how another photographer sees and uses light is invaluable.

    11: Phlearn

    Phlearn is one of the best sources for all thing photo editing in lightroom and photoshop. Some of the tutorials are incredibly complex and get very in depth. Thankfully the host Aaron has mind reading capabilities can knows which parts of his tutorials are most complicated and he does a great job of slowing down to explain the process and why it works the way it does. And luckily he has a personality that makes learning fun and engaging. Phlern has tutorials on everything from what every button in adobe lightroom does to how to make a Stranger Things poster image in Photoshop. This tutorial on retouching babies skin might be one of the most useful and popular.

    12: Chase Jarvis

    Chase Jarvis is a world famous photographer for some of the biggest sports and adventure brands and creator of the popular website Creative Live. Chase hands down is one of the most positive and motivational people I have ever seen. He shares experiences that he has encountered while behind the camera to motivate and inspire photographers of all skill levels. His presence is perfect for his youtube show Chase Jarvis RAW. Chase not only interviews world famous photographers but also some of the world’s top thought leaders like Richard Branson, Daymon John, and Tim Ferris.

    13: B&H Photo

    If you dont know, B&H Photo is the worlds largest camera store. Located in New York City the store is more than 70,000 square feet and more than 10,000 products that you can put your hands on and try. Their youtube channel is full of useful product demos that will surely help you when feeling indecisive. The real meat of the B&H youtube channel is their “Event Space” series where they record hour long+ lectures and training by some of the worlds best and most proven photographers. It is not short form content, the guest has more time to go in depth on their topic which will give you a better understanding. And when tackling complex topics like “Are you expressing your creativity or just pressing buttons?” the extra time and long form conversation is refreshing!

    14: Adorama TV

    Adorama TV is another camera retailer like B&H but that’s about all they have in common when it comes to their youtube content. With close to 3,000 videos and over 1,000,000 video views a month it’s obvious that Adorama TV makes some incredible tutorials and content for photographers. Adorama TV has a slew of video series and you are bound to find several that really appeal to you. One of my favorite hosts Mike Wallace shares a ton of great tips about lighting that will get you thinking differently.

    15: The Art of Photography

    If you are interested in anything film related, print related, or anything about taking photography to a level higher than point and shoot, the Art of Photography is perfect for you. Ted Forbes hosts interesting discussions about what makes a photograph interesting and artistic. His views passionate yet open. He makes it clear that there is more than one way to do something right and plenty of opportunity to improve and grow as a photographer. While Ted Forbes has helpful reviews on cameras and whatnot I think the most power comes from his many videos that get you thinking and asking yourself questions about your own work.

    17: Mango Street

    Having created their youtube channel for photographers just over a year ago it’s quite incredible that they have amassed well over half a million dedicated subscribers. Watch any of their more than 100 videos and you will immediately understand the appeal. Their quick and to the point defined videos mean there is fluff and no time wasted learning what you are looking for. Their unique editing style and chemistry together make each video incredibly entertaining to watch.

    18: Eric Kim Photography

    Eric Kim is a street photographer who is not scared to strap a GoPro to the top of his camera and ask people walking by to take their portraits. Eric also shares photography tips like composition for street photography while he traces over his photos on an iPad making them pop. Eric answers lots of questions about being bold and stepping out of your comfort zone when out on the street that will be sure to help you when starting out.

    19: Jessica Kobeissi

    Jessicas channel is unique for sure. Some photographers make a single video of how to shoot in an ugly location but Jessica has a whole series on shooting in ugly locations, shooting with dollar tree items, cheap ebay dresses, and multiple photographers shooting the same model. Her channel offers fun creative ideas and different perspectives to prove that even with nothing, you can come up with a creative photo shoot.

    20: Jamie Windsor

    Jamie is a UK based wedding photographer but dont let that stop you if you don’t shoot weddings! With videos ranging from “9 tips to getting better black and white photos” to “Why your ideas arn’t original” Jamie really has something useful for every photographer.

    21: Evan Ranft

    Evans Channel has some great offerings for the younger viewers who are interested in photography and travel through social media. With tutorials on getting high quality photos on instagram and editing iPhone photos with VSCO he caters to a crowd who wants freedom from a computer and still be able to live an adventurous lifestyle. But don't skip his channel just because you're over 30, Evan also has tutorials on 14 Great lightroom tips AND the linked video below what to expect and how to prepare for your first photoshoot.

    22: Nathan Elson

    Nathan Elson is a Calgary Alberta commercial photographer who may not upload nearly as often as the rest of the youtube channels on this list, but what he does upload is pure gold. Nathan is a master at bringing you into his busy studio and walking you through what’s in his head when it comes to lighting and camera technicals as well as the challenges of what it’s like to be a busy working commercial photography.

    23: Irene Rudnyk

    Irene, like Nathan Elson is another Canadian photographer. Irene focuses on fashion photography but with a more home grown portrait flair. She is great at what she does, just check out her underwater photoshoot! But Irene knows her audience well enough to create videos like the one below all about what goes into having a home studio.

    BONUS! 24: The Beginner Photography Podcast

    Lastly, our channel, the Beginner Photography Podcast. On top of posting every recorded podcast interview this year has seen an effort into posting more tutorials to helping grow your skills as a photographer like creative challenges and dealing with digital storage and show you how to focus less on what doesn't matter.

    Like I mentioned earlier, there is no shortage of great photography resources on youtube! In fact, if you scoured youtube non stop for the next year I’m sure you could learn everything you need to find a successful photographer. But in case you don’t have that much time and you want to learn photography in an easy to follow, free video course, sign up below!

    Want to learn how to take control of your camera and start taking photos you're proud to show off to the world? Fill out the form to sign up for our FREE video course

    2 Day Photography Bootcamp!

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    The Ultimate Beginner Photographers Guide to Composition

    composition-for-new-photographers

    If you have ever looked at a photo and thought “wow this is a really good photo” but couldn't figure out WHY, it’s probably because the photo had a solid composition. What’s great about that is that, I’ve said this a million times, learning and practicing composition has nothing to do with how good your camera is. You can get better compositions with the cell phone in your pocket!

    Composition is first step to mastering your photos. Anyone can get the technicals if they keep with photography long enough but few continue to try and see the world around them in a new way to find interesting compositions. Sometimes you have to get low, or high or jump 2 steps to the left to get the perfect frame.

    The challenge with composition is that you want to be close enough to tell a compelling story. If you’re too close, your will not have enough information on what’s going on. If you’re too far away the photo will not be compelling as it will not have enough impact.

    First What is composition?

    Google defines composition as “the nature of something's ingredients or constituents; the way in which a whole or mixture is made up.”

    photography-composition-definition

    Like I mentioned earlier composition can be practiced and mastered anywhere with any camera. I’m sure at some point in your life you have looked at an iPhone photo and thought that it was better than anything you have created with your DSLR camera. The answer is composition.

    Are you getting the bigger picture here?

    A great photo is not all about having a wide aperture or telephoto lens or newest camera body that lets you shoot at 14 frames per second.

    So let’s break down composition. In photography I look for three things to make a strong composition. The Rule of Thirds, Framing, and Leading Lines. Adding any of these elements into your photos will make them more compelling to look at.

    1: The Rule of Thirds

    The Rule of Thirds is perhaps the most well known compositional tool. Its built into every modern cell phone. Think of an imaginary Tic Tac Toe board laid on top of a photo. Science has found that where the vertical and horizontal lines intersect is where your eyes naturally find pleasing. So placing your subject within the intersecting points will make your photo more enjoyable to look at.

    Beginner

    Within but like most things, it’s simple to start and difficult to master. Starting with the rule of thirds you can simply just angle your camera to the left or right to put your subject in the intersecting line. As you can see in my example below, I went to take a photo of my son Charlie and just angled the camera more to the left to place him in the right third of the frame. Simple.

    Simple-Rule-of-thirds

    In my next example, I did the same thing with my daughter eating some fruit. I angle the camera down so her face would be in the top left third and her hand reaching for the plate was in the bottom right third. Easy Peasy.

    portrait-rule-of-thirds

    Intermediate

    Already your photos are starting to look better but you want to take it further. This is when you start to add more context to your photos, Whats going on, where are you, etc. The first photo you see our son has no cavities (woohoo!). So I placed him in the lower left third, but to add more context I wanted to include the dentists' sign. I took a step back and brought the sign to the top right of the frame. Now we have more of the story!

    intermediate-rule-of-thirds-dentist

    In the next example you see Charlie standing in the middle of some hay. But by taking a step back you can see he’s in a maze by the stacked hay walls and his confusion only adds to the interest because it tells more of the story.

    boy-standing-in-hay-maze-rule-of-thirds

    Advanced

    Once you start getting the hang of adding more content you should be ready for the advanced course on the rule of thirds. Creating your own. Sometimes placing your subject in the intersecting lines is not interesting enough. Stepping back to add more context adds a bit more but the photo is still lacking something. This is where simply waiting for the right moment comes into play. Waiting for the right moment for movement or your subject to do something interesting is creating your own photo that is not reactionary but it's being proactive. In my example below. Parker was drawing in her book intently and it was adorable so I wanted to take a photo but it just was not coming together. I had to either get high enough to see that it was a coloring book and lose her face or get low enough to see her face but lose the fact that she was coloring. This is where patience comes in. I found a low composition I like. I waited until she was done with the current page and went to flip to the next to snap the photo. The added context that she is coloring really makes this photo a joy to look at as it tells the whole story.

    little-girl-reading-coloring-book-christmas-tree

    The next photo may be looked at as Framing but stick with me. I placed Charlie getting a haircut in the lower left but I found the flag separator things distracting even though I thought they would add simplicity. So I looked around to see how I could add more of the hair station to the photo, and I couldn’t without losing Charlies face. That’s when I saw the mirror, placed it in the lower right and snapped the photo. Now, this is not a great photo. I’m too far away to get the full effect of the reflection but the point is to show you to look around for what else you can add to the photo.

    little-boy-getting-haircut-reflection

    2: Framing

    You can make any photo more compelling by using the rule of thirds as it requires nothing more than a camera and a subject. Framing your subject is the next step as it requires something extra. A frame! What can you use for a frame? As you’ll see in the examples below, you can turn just about anything into a frame! A frame is used to draw your attention to your subject. Sometimes isolating them in the frame, other times highlighting them. The point here is to make your subject stand out! I find when I see a frame, I love to turn the photo into a portrait which for me often does not follow the rule of thirds. But hey rules are supposed to be broken right?

    Getting started with framing, once again, can be pretty easy. In my first example below you can see Parker was waving goodbye to me. She was already framed in between the curtains but I placed the camera where the windows framed her in the center of the photo. Done.

    Little-girl-waving-goodbye-through-window

    Same with the next example. Charlie was jumping on the trampoline. I simply waited until he was in the center, I moved to where he would not be blocked by the safety poles and took the shot. There is nothing magical here, but simple framing to get you started.

    boy-jumping-aroung-snow-covered-trampoline

    Intermediate

    You will quickly see that anything can be used as a frame. Taking kids to the park is my favorite. They get out a ton of energy and I get to stretch my creative muscles. You see Charlie coming up the tube. The inside of the tube is dark, but at the end of it is bright. Charlie's body creates a silhouette that frames him in the photo. That alone would be a beginner framing technique. Adding in Parker looking at him gives more context. It shows they are playing together and having fun. It shows that the photo is more than just me asking Charlie to go in the tube so I could frame him in a photo.

    brother-and-sister-playing-at-park-pink-jacket-green-tunnel

    The next example is from Charlie’s birthday at Chuck e Cheese. The kid is always in awe of how many awesome, fun, and colorful games they have. When he walked up to this one, I knew from behind you would be able to tell how focused he was on the game, so I used the games symmetry to frame him in.

    boy-playing-neon-pink-green-blue-arcade-game-silhouette

    Advanced

    Now we are getting it. It’s time to start experimenting with frames while adding more context. Here Charlie was at the top of the playground looking over the rest of the park. You can see the interesting curves of the structure, the simple colors that are not too distracting, and the roof behind his head with lines that draw your eyes right to his. Like I mentioned earlier, this is more of a portrait because it would not hold the same weight if I moved him off to the left or right to incorporate the rule of thirds. BUT you will see that his head is on the top line, and his feet are on the bottom line. So while they are not intersecting, Im still aware of the Rule of Thirds.

    boy-standing-on-top-of-green-tan-park-playground

    In this photo, you can see Charlie throwing packing peanuts all over the kitchen having the time of his life. This photo was a tough one to take because as you can see the cabinet to the left really blocks off most of the action. But I used that empty space to frame Parkers head in there. Again adding more context. Try to look at this photo and imagine Parker was not in it. The photo would be incredibly boring because I would be too far away for the action. It would not be compelling. I’m not saying this photo is extremely compelling but adding Parker in the foreground looking at her brother turns this photo from a dud to a keeper because it adds to the story.

    boy-throwing-packing-peanuts-all-over-white-kitchen

    3: Leading Lines

    Leading lines are something in the frame that can bring attention to your subject. Think of someone standing in the middle of a road that vanishes off into the sunset. Leading lines can be super subtle or very pronounced. It’s a way once again to draw your eyes right to your subject. Leading lines is the last step because it can be the most difficult. Your eyes do not naturally see leading lines. You brain does but continuously you don’t even notice them. You need to train your eyes to see them and capturing them almost ALWAYS means moving the camera to a place you didn't think of. Either higher or lower to perfect the angle or closer or further to make the lines more or less pronounced.

    Beginner

    In this photo, you see Parker looking at the camera, but the window frame starts from the corner and goes right to her eyes. I moved the camera right next to the window to make the line more pronounced and then brought the camera down so that the line went right to her eyes.

    baby-girl-in-red-shirt-looking-at-camera

    Here you see Charlie dressed up for Halloween and the sidewalk is creating the leading lines that go directly to his head. To grab this shot I had to get the camera down to his level once again otherwise the sidewalk lines would have gone to his hips and that’s not interesting. Then I just framed him in the middle to maximize the effect of the lines.

    boy-dressed-up-as-mario-for-halloween

    Intermediate

    Ok the basics are covered. Now is where you start experimenting once again to get unique lines and start to incorporate the other compositional tools. Here you see Parker was sitting on a ramp. By simply lowering the camera to the ground, the ramp created the leading lines that went right to her. Then I also placed her so that she was being framed by the tube behind her. This photo could have also worked with the rule of thirds. Mainly because of the frame behind. If she was not framed, I'm not sure it would be as compelling. That’s why this is more intermediate.

    toddler-playing-at-park-in-fall-blue-ramp

    Once you start using leading lines you will see them everywhere. This is a great example. How many times have you been to the store and not recognized the shelves as leading lines? By just moving your camera up or down you can place the lines where you want. I wanted them to go to Charlie’s head since that’s where the action is. I found it and I snapped it. Here I am also incorporating the rule of thirds. Charlie is in the Top right of the corner, the phone is in the bottom left and the shelf draws you attention from one side to the other.

    boy-on-phone-with-santa

    Advanced

    The advanced lesson on leading lines is looking for things that are not lines to turn into lines. Starting off with something simple, you see Parker pointing to an ornament that we would not let her play with. Getting on her level here ads to the story. Getting close to the ornament, effectively making it larger in the frame adds to the story as well. The photo starts with us looking at parkers sad face. We want to know why she’s sad. We follow her arm that I waited for her to reach out pointing right to the ornament. Suddenly we get it.

    toddler-girl-playing-with-red-christmas-orniment

    Next, again this photo is not particularly good but it’s to highlight a point. These pumpkins are round. They are balls. The furthest thing from a straight line. But by getting the camera low enough I have created a line that your eye can see. With Charlie in the right of the frame, and the line moving up and to the left we now see mom and Parker further down the trail. Don’t be afraid to move your camera around to find something unique.

    walking-through-pumpkin-patch

    The TRIFECTA!

    We have made it. You have learned how the Rule of Thirds can make your photos more pleasing without any additional outside influence. You have learned how framing your subject makes them stand out in a sea of business. And you have seen how leading lines can add interest and weight to your photos. Now is the time we bring it all together. The more compositional tools you bring together in one photo the more powerful it becomes. So what does it look like when you have all 3 combined into one photo? NOTE: just because a photo has all three compositional tools, does not make it a perfect photo as you will see below.

    Sometimes you get a “Happy accident” This was shot with a GoPro. I was not paying attention to the screen. I simply had the camera in burst mode, held it down at Parkers level and snapped away. Here you can see the water creates a leading line and is framing here in. On top of that, the sun is also directly behind her creating another frame with her on the right side of the frame loosely in the rule of thirds.

    baby-playing-at-water-park

    This was another photo I just snapped and it was not until later that I dissected it and saw it included all 3 elements. Charlie is in the lower left third framed by the fence and the water behind it. His arms are leading up to the raft elevator in the top right of the frame. Is this photo a show stopper? No, but its compelling enough to figure out the story of Charlie waiting for a raft to get into for his turn on the slide.

    boy-waiting-at-water-park-raft-ride

    Here we have Parker, on the lower right of the frame being framed into the shadow of the couch with the pillows creating leading lines right to her eyes. The whole story is not here. She was sick and falling asleep on the couch and I was trying to capture that and I couldn't really. I tried, I added all three elements and still the photo falls flat.

    little-girl-sick-laying-on-couch

    I love this one. It’s my wife and son Charlie talking about how much fun we had that daw while enjoying the warm summer evening. My wife in on the right third, Charlie is more towards the middle but it doesn't bother me. Their silhouettes are framed by the lit fence in the background which is also creating a bond between them with them lines of the fence.

    mon-and-son-silhouette-backyard-night-time-lights

    If this isn't interesting I don't know what is. This show was much more intentional than the previous. Here is Parker in the lower left of the frame, being framed in by the door, looking outside waving at mom arriving home in the driveway. With the lines of the window and the front step outside leading to Parker. This tells a full story.

    little-girl-waving-goodbye-to-mom-through-door

    This photo was also intentional. Charlie is framed on the right side of the frame by the carpet in the background with leading lines of the shelves taking you right to his eyes. I could have got lower to get more emotion and framed his head into the tiled path but uh…. You live and learn. I'm not perfect.

    boy-in-teal-shirt-picking-out-movie-to-watch

    This has to be one of my favorite photos I took last year. I think it’s just about perfect. I don't even think it needs an explanation. But if I could go back and do it again, I would try to move the camera more to the right to frame out the closet door their in the center.

    happy-baby-laughing-over-baby-gate

    Wrap Up

    I want you to walk away from this feeling inspired. I had to go through a year's worth of photos to find these 25. And even then some are still not great photos despite using the compositional tools. Why should that inspire you? Well because it means that there is a whole world of photography out there to explore and master. Even after 10+ years shooting, I still work on my craft every day. Maybe next year I will take 27 photos I would be happy to show off as examples. It takes time and patience but you are clearly taking the right steps to better yourself and grow your skills as a photographer.

    Camera Gear: Buying New Vs Used

    Photography is one hell of an expensive hobby. If you want to get a beginner kit to start brewing beer, it may cost you $99. Want to learn to cook? You just need to pay for the supplies, Fishing costs a permit, rod & reel, and some bait so less than $60. Sure as you get more into these hobbies the price and start to add up but photography? If you want to use something more than the cell phone in your pocket and get a DSLR, entry level cameras start at more than $700.

    *Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. I will receive a commission if you make a purchase through one of these links.*

    So… Why not buy used gear? I hear you, what if the previous owner treated their gear poorly? A used camera doesn't come with a warranty. What if there is a scratch on the lens that I couldn’t see in the ebay listing? What if the lens looks fine but the autofocus is broken? Newer cameras have 5x more megapixels! What if I get it and it doesn't work? I don’t want to get ripped off!

    I understand. With how much used gear can cost it can still be a scary investment but when done right you can save a ton of money that you can put towards more gear! So here are my tips to picking the right used gear so you don’t get burned and can save a ton of money.

    Where to buy? I’ll be honest. I have personally spend close to $12,000 on used gear on ebay that I have used in my own personal wedding photography business and have never had a problem. But I was diligent and followed a few rules. I knew what I wanted, I knew what to look out for, and I knew that if it looked too good to be true, just pass it up. No matter the savings the headache is not worth it if the equipment is bad. So should you eBay? I’d say no. Not if you’re making your first used camera decision I HIGHLY recommend you go to a local camera store to put your hands on a camera or lens before you buy.

    If you don’t want to deal with ebay or amazon and want to buy from a reputable online retailer check out KEH.com. Buying and selling used photography gear is all they do and they are the best at it.

    CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT KEH.COM the most reputable online source for used Camera’s and lenses.

    A local camera store's reputation is on the line and if the camera does not meet your standard or expectations, or it fails you should be able to return it with no issues. In person will always be the best place to buy used gear if possible. But weather you're looking online or in person, here are my tips to buying used gear.

    Cameras:

    Know the camera before making a decision.

    The difference between a Nikon d3200 and a Canon 1Dx mkii is more than just $4000. They are completely different cameras designed to do two completely different tasks. The 1Dx mkii can survive arctic temperatures, sudden downpours, and over a half million shutter actuations. The nikon d3200 on the other hand would struggle to make it to 100,000 shutter actuations. So when looking at a used camera with 200,000 shutter actuations, the camera could be the difference between moments away from death and years of life left in it. This is why knowing the camera is so important.

    Scratches and scuffs.

    When I bought my first used camera I would skip right over any camera with a scratch or a scuff. I thought it must have fell or been hit but after owning many cameras I know that my flash rubbing against the camera in my padded protected camera bag can cause wear. This does not mean the camera is trash. If you can get a good look at the area. Determine if its a simple wear or something worse. Around the top of the camera where the flash is mounted, the bottom of the camera where it is connected to a tripod, on the side where the camera may rest on a camera belt are all super common places for wear that should not be a concern. As long as there are no gashes I would say the camera should be just fine.

    Lack or warranty.

    This is one of the biggest concerns, if something goes wrong what do you do? If you buy from a local camera store or a reputable online retailer like KEH the odds are, they will take care of the issue. But when buying from an auction site like ebay or even in person from craigslist if something goes wrong you will have a much harder time getting the issue fixed. This is where the price of the camera and your willingness pay a repair shop to get the issue fixed comes in. It’s just a choice you will have to make for yourself.

    Lenses:

    The rubber will tell a better story than the glass.

    The quality of a used lens is more than just the glass it shoots through. On higher end lenses the glass is extremely strong and is not likely to scratch. Meaning a lens may have been abused but because the glass is so good you may have no idea. The rubber on a lens is a much better indicator of a lenses use. It’s much more pliable than glass. Look for loose fitting or stretched rubber. How much play is in the zoom ring? The rubber should all be nice and tight. Sure the rubber could be replaced but the actual rubber is not on trial here. The rubber is just an indicator of how the rest of the lens was treated. So replacing the rubber may only solve a very small issue with the lens.

    Scratches, dust, and fungus!?

    You don’t want to see a lenses glass with scratches, and you don’t want to look through it and see dust or fungus. These can be bad signs. I would honestly stay away from a lens where the glass is scratched or you can visibly see dust and fungus inside. However if you are on a tight budget and need a specific lens, and the one you can afford has a tiny scratch on the glass. I might not be turned off. You would be surprised how much of a scratch it would take on a lens to affect your picture quality. Honestly. So try and mount the lens on a camera body. Take a few photos and look at them on a computer. Then determine for yourself if you can notice if the scratch shows up on the image. If not… well you might just save yourself a heap of cash.

    Remember that scratches are different than normal wear on a lens.

    Where a lens mounts on your camera or on larger lenses where it mounts to a tripod or a paint scuff are not things I would worry about too much. When people spend a lot of money on a camera or a lens they typically try to take really good care of it. So follow these tips to buying used gear and your fear of getting burned or wasting money should be gone!

    If you want to save money on quality used camera gear,

    CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT KEH.COM the most reputable online source for used Camera’s and lenses.

    But after all of this, the camera will not make you a great photographer. It can only do what you tell it. You might get the same results from a $400 used camera as you would a $4000 new camera. If you want to grow your skills as a photographer you need education.

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      The 5 Photos You Need To Tell Any Story

      young boy waiting for muffins to bake in the oven

      Photography is a wonderful tool for storytelling. In photojournalism, you aim to tell an entire story in 1 frame so it can go on the cover of the Sunday paper. This is an excellent goal to strive for. I often see photographers new in their journey not giving enough context. It’s cool that you took a photo of someone with a sword but… why do they have the sword? Is it a performance? If so where is it? Is it just a costume? Or is there a man who thinks he’s a ninja and is terrifying people on the street? All of those instances bring up a completely different response on the viewers part.

      Sometimes telling the whole story in a single frame is tough though! This is where a photo essay opens a whole world of possibilities. But just like a traditional essay, there are a few things you need to cover in order for it to still be interesting and compelling. Today we are going to go over the 5 photos you need to take for any photo essay.  

      Blueberry muffin mix and ripe bananas

      1: The Establishing Shot.

      This is the shot in movies from the outside of a house where the characters are inside plotting a bank heist, or the shot inside of a busy dimly lit restaurant where a couple are having their first date.This shot is important to give you context of where the action is taking place. For you this may be a wide shot of your kitchen with your child on a stool in front of a mixing bowl. It lets the viewer know where the action is happening and gives them a taste of what’s about to happen.

      child gathering ingredients to bake muffins

      2: The Medium Shot.

      Now that we know where the action is happening with the establishing shot, the medium shot gets closer to tell us WHO is participating in the action. This could be a waist up photo of your child with spoon in hand mixing away or adding in the chocolate chips into the cookie dough. On top of showing off who is participating in the action try and show off more of the action itself.

      child mixing muffin mix in bowl

      3: The Close Up

      Ahhhh the infamous close up. This is the shot that can make or break the entire photo essay. We as humans are trained to look at and read other humans reactions. When someone is sad, you know they are sad. When someone is happy, you know they are happy. When someone is screaming with labor pains we feel sympathy. The close up gives our brains the info it needs to make a decision on how we should be feeling about the situation. So get close and pay attention to your backgrounds. Make sure the eyes go right to your subject and not to the mess in the background. Don’t be afraid to wait for the right moment. The look of anticipation for the cookies baking while illuminated by the glow from the oven light while looking through the glass. This shot should take you the most amount of time to capture.

      muffin mix going into baking tray

      4: The EXTREME Close Up.

      I find this best used for details. Flour that spilled over into a tiny pile when your child missed the measuring cup. The dough on your child's fingers that they can’t wait to lick off. The measuring cup filled to the brim with milk or knife next to the stick of butter. These photos may not tell the whole story but the context they provide will be the icing on the cake (and no one likes un-iced cakes).

      young boy eating a fresh blueberry muffin

      5: The Pay Off.

      This shot is not always self explanatory as it does not dictate where the camera should be placed. Personally I like mine a bit wider than a close up. Sometime this is the reaction to the first bite of the cookie, other times this is a shot of just the cookie on the counter with a single bite taken out of it. Sometimes this is a photo of the freshly swaddled newborn baby, other times it is photo of the babies info of height, weight, name, etc with the family in the background. The pay off can be left up to interpretation and I love that.

      What I love so much about this list is that no matter your skill level it gives you something to shoot for. Often when starting out, you can get so overwhelmed about what to shoot that you can take a million photos and still feel like a story is not being told. But if you try diligently to capture these 5 photos you will be sure to grow your skills of storytelling through your photography.

      Want More Photography Tips to Grow Your Skills?