SUPER-TELE ZOOMS – Upgrade your telephoto lens with one of these offerings for phenomenal reach and versatility

Photographers can be a greedy bunch. However much telephoto reach we have, we often hanker after a little more, and there are various ways of achieving this. The starting point for most of us is to buy either a 70-200mm f2.8 or 70-300mm f4-5.6 tele zoom. You can boost the former to 400mm with a 2x tele-converter, or gain an effective 450mm focal length by mounting the latter on an APS-C format body (480mm for Canon).

Another option is to buy a well- established super-tele zoom like the Canon 100-400mm or Nikon 80-400mm. However, if you are used to shooting with a 70-300mm lens on an APS-C format camera, and have moved up to full-frame, you might still feel a bit short-changed when it comes to outright reach. Next up are the Canon 200-400mm and Nikon 180- 400mm lenses which feature built-in 1.4x tele-converters, but they’re monstrously expensive at around £11,000/$12,000 apiece, and monster prime lenses also tend to be very pricey.

Offering a more manageable and affordable solution, Sigma and Tamron have pushed the boundaries with their recent 150-600mm super-tele zooms. Nikon has responded with a 200-500mm lens which, while it doesn’t quite match the others for zoom range or maximum reach, isn’t far off. And the Nikon is similarly competitive in terms of price.

One thing you won’t get with a zoom lens that’s sufficiently lightweight for handheld shooting, yet stretches to 500mm or 600mm, is a ‘fast’ aperture rating. This makes image stabilisation an absolute must. It’s featured in all of the lenses in this test group, apart from the Sony A-mount edition of the Tamron, which relies on in- camera stabilisation instead. Let’s take a closer look at what the current contenders have to offer.

Tamron SP 150-600mm f5-6.3 Di VC USD G2

Aiming to take everything to a whole new level, here’s Tamron – the next generation

As with the excellent 24-70mm and 70-200mm G2 zooms, this one boasts improvements in features, handling and performance. A revised optical layout includes three LD elements rather than just one, and a mixture of both conventional and nano-structured coatings. A full set of weather seals is added, plus a fluorine coating on the front element.

Useful features include a short/long- distance autofocus limiter, which can lock out the range either side of ten metres. The ring-type ultrasonic system has the same manual-priority override as in the Nikon lens, but lacks the Sigma lenses’ auto/manual-priority selection switch.

For stabilisation, the Tamron has a three- position VC (Vibration Compensation) switch. It covers all bases with static and panning modes, plus a mode for applying stabilisation only during the exposure.

This makes it easier to track erratically moving subjects through the viewfinder.

The system delivers 4.5-stop effectiveness, matching that of the Nikon lens and edging ahead of the Sigma lenses. And where you can lock the Sigma lenses’ zoom ring at any marked setting, the Tamron has a push-pull zoom ring enabling it to be locked at any focal length.

In a reversal of fortunes to the Sigma Contemporary lens, sharpness is very good at the long end of the zoom range but less impressive at short to medium focal lengths. Ultimately, if you want a lens that delivers excellent 400-600mm performance in a strong, weather-sealed yet reasonably lightweight build, all at a keen price, this Tamron is a smart buy.

Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 DG OSHSM|S

Big and heavy, Sigma’s mighty Sport lens literally puts all the other contenders in the shade

Physically longer, wider and heavier than other lenses on test, Sigma’s Sport lens is a bit of a beast. It tips the scales at 2,860g, which is good news if you enjoy a physical workout without paying gym fees. The front section of the lens is particularly large, and has a 105mm filter thread instead of the 95mm in the other lenses.

This lens comes closest of any in the group to the look and feel of a fully pro- grade optic. Unlike the Nikon and Sigma Contemporary lenses on test, it has a full set of weather seals, rather than just a sealed mounting plate. It also feels very sturdy and robust, from its brass mounting plate to its metal outer barrel and hood. The rear of the barrel also features strap lugs, so you can hang it from your neck without stressing your camera mount.

All of the attractions of the Sigma Contemporary lens are carried through, including an identical set of switches for auto/manual-priority autofocus, a short/ long autofocus range limiter, dual-mode stabilisation, and two custom modes. Both lenses are also supplied with padded soft cases, but the Sport lens also has a padded soft lens cap that encircles the hood when extended or inverted. Handling benefits from a much bigger focus ring than in the Contemporary lens.

The Sport also goes extra-large in terms of image quality and all-round performance. Autofocus is super fast and highly accurate, while sharpness and contrast are better than from any competing lens, throughout the entire zoom and aperture ranges. Colour fringing is minimal and pincushion distortion is fairly negligible.

Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 DGOSHSM|C

It’s a much more lightweight affair than Sigma’s Sport lens, in price as well as overall construction

This is the only lens on test that weighs in at under two kilos; in fact, it’s nearly a whole kilogram lighter than Sigma’s Sport lens. It still comes complete with a detachable tripod mounting collar, but it’s easier than most to use for prolonged periods of handheld shooting.

Despite costing considerably less than competing lenses, Sigma’s ‘Contemporary’ offering packs plenty of up-market features. It beats the Nikon by offering both auto- and manual-priority AF modes, and the ability to lock out the long and the short end of the autofocus range. There’s a dual-mode stabiliser for static and panning shots, which gave an effectiveness of just under four stops in our tests.

Further trickery includes two ‘custom’ modes which can be selected via a switch on the barrel, enabling you to alter autofocus and stabilisation parameters. You’ll need Sigma’s optional USB Dock to set up custom modes, and it can also be used for applying firmware updates.

The optical path includes three SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements and one top-grade FLD (Fluorite LD) element. The front and rear elements have a fluorine coating to repel water and grease and Far left to make cleaning easier, and the brass mounting plate has a weather-seal ring.

Sharpness and contrast are a close match to those of the bigger and pricier Sigma Sport lens, at least throughout most of the zoom range. However, sharpness isn’t retained so well at the long end of the zoom range, between 500mm and 600mm. At these focal lengths, it’s good rather than great.

Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f5.6E ED VR

Keenly priced for an own-brand Nikon lens, it leads the field in some ways but lags behind in others

Considering the price tags attached to some of Nikon’s recent lenses, this one looks a bit of a bargain. The constant- aperture design is unique in this test, and makes the Nikon a third of an f-stop faster at the long end of its zoom range. However, it has a smaller 2.5x rather than 4x zoom range, with focal lengths that don’t go as short or as long as in the competing lenses.

Build quality is good with a solid construction and weather-sealed mounting plate. The zoom mechanism can be locked at its shortest setting, while other switches are on hand for focusing modes, long-distance autofocus range limiting and VR (Vibration Reduction). The ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system is manual priority, in that it instantly swaps to manual focusing if you twist the focus ring while in autofocus mode. It therefore works in continuous AF mode, as well as enabling you to swap to manual if AF is struggling to lock onto a subject.

Like a number of recent Nikon lenses, this one has an electromagnetically controlled aperture. Compared with

Nikon’s more conventional mechanical lever, this enables greater exposure consistency when shooting in fast continuous drive mode. The downside is that it’s incompatible with older Nikon DSLRs, up to and including the D200, D3000 and D5000.

Autofocus is fast and accurate. Sharpness is mostly impressive but dips a bit in the middle sector of the zoom range. Colour fringing is slightly worse than with the other lenses on test at the long end, but image quality is good overall.




MASTER SCHOOL PORTRAITS AND EVENTS –  School events are a contradictory area for photographers. Proms, fashion shows and senior portraits all provide a wealth of opportunities for new photographers, sometimes even for school pupils themselves, to break into the world of professional photography and gain invaluable commercial experience.

Yet these events also tend to be large in scale and difficult to coordinate efficiently, even for highly experienced photographers. The large number of attendees offers huge potential for revenue, representing an inflated per-hour rate of pay. Beyond this, assuming you make a good impression, there is the possibility of repeat business, as school events often occur annually. It is a challenging sector to enter, so it is beneficial to be aware of the main difficulties beforehand.

As an individual photographer, it can be hard to effectively cover large events and capture all of the desirable details – after all, you can only be in one location at a time. A solution is to equip yourself with two camera bodies, each mounted with a different lens. Try fitting one body with a wide-angle and the other with a telephoto,

Charge a retainer fee

Be sure to cover your costs by arranging an up-front payment, independent of image sales

When shooting weddings or other similar events, you can be fairly confident of the proportion of guests that will purchase prints from you. At school events, when the exact format and attendee engagement can be undecided and unpredictable, you need to reduce the impact of poor sales, not least because your images will have limited long-term significance. Consider charging a retainer fee, that is enough to cover your travel expenses to the venue and time preparing previews later. This can be contributed in small amounts by each attendee, who can be discounted this amount on their print order, for example.


or alternatively use a fast prime, such as a 30mm f1.4 on camera one, and a mid-range zoom on camera two – a 24-105mm f4 or similar is common. Lack of venue control is another challenge. Unlike many wedding venues, where layout can be tailored to suit the couple’s requirements, school events mostly occur in fixed settings, forcing the photographer to work around the environment provided. Arrive early, calculate camera settings for each area and once shooting queues of students, avoid changing your settings between shots for higher throughput. Try saving settings to your camera’s custom mode dial positions, so you can call up pre-defined and unchanging parameters on demand. Coordinate with venue staff to find the best places to set up your shots and maximise your control over lighting, space and backgrounds. Frame your shots wider than necessary to include more peripheral space for increased cropping options. Students in groups won’t stay still for long, so use burst mode to capture sequences of shots, to guarantee the best composition.

Ensuring a good return on your time is another major consideration. School-based shoots are intensive and require considerable effort on the photographer’s part, so it is essential we achieve a sustainable profit. While you may shoot many images on location, often only a small fraction of these will be purchased. Events such as proms are previews of your images as soon as possible, usually within two or three days of the event, to encourage sales while it is still fresh in customers’ minds. Provide clear information regarding the online gallery where images can be viewed and when they will be available. Also encourage group and couple images, as these can give you maximum sales for minimal processing time. Don’t resist requests to see images on the back of your camera, since modern generations are used to instant image reviews. Giving your subjects a glimpse of your shots may drive traffic to your event page and adds to the interaction between you and your models. Make the process fun, so it stands out from the rest of the event.


Make sure to interact with your subjects and get to know them. This will help students become comfortable around you, which will reflect in your images. Expressions will be more natural and the excitement of the atmosphere will shine through, increasing selling appeal. very context-driven and attendees’ buying behaviour changes quickly.

Always provide

Use your environment Shooting in an outdoor setting and making the most of the location you have is an effective way of shooting natural, relaxed senior portraits

Know the itinerary

Events like proms move quickly, so being aware of what will happen and when ensures you will be well positioned for your target images, such as students arriving or mingling

Perfect in-camera Monochrome

Perfect in-camera Monochrome

Perfect in-camera Monochrome

Perfect in-camera Monochrome – While black and white conversion in software offers flexibility, creating monochrome images at the moment of exposure has its own benefits

There’s an abundance of dedicated black and white conversion software applications that provide sophisticated options for quality colourless images. However, while shooting in colour and stripping it away later has become standard practice, it can cause problems. Conversion is not a quick method of making a dull image worth keeping, as can be the tempting frame of mind to adopt. Shooting your image with the initial intent to produce a mono shot allows you to consider tone, detail and compositional balance before the exposure is made.

Once you have decided how you want the final image to look, using the scene in front of you as a reference, you can select contrast, sharpness and tone from a range of file-customisation options in your camera’s image style menu, while seeing an immediate preview. Sometimes a slight adjustment to exposure or composition can improve your tonal range, parameters which cannot be easily altered at the computer.

Modern cameras often have toning filters or film simulation modes, which can be added to create unique photographs. Applying effects in the camera saves time at the processing stage, and can output print-ready images that don’t suffer from the mis-application of processing or variations in tone, induced by inconsistent colour balance between computer screens.

Take home studio beauty portraits

Take home studio beauty portraits

Take home studio beauty portraits

Take home studio beauty portraits –  Take beauty shots in an improvised home studio with a simple setup Difficulty level: Intermediate/Expert Time taken: 1 day (max 8 hours)

In this brief tutorial you will learn how to make a professional-looking beauty shot, with some basic equipment and a simple lighting setup. There are a lot of simple steps that can be easily overlooked, so pay attention not to miss these as they can make a huge difference to your end results. For this particular shoot we will use a full-frame DSLR – in this instance we are using the Canon EOS 5DS with a 50-megapixel sensor for ultra-high clarity, but you can still use cameras with half that resolution, even with APS-C sized sensors. For the lens we chose Canon’s EF 135mm f2L USM telephoto lens, which is really one of the best and sharpest Canon lenses around.

In the light department, we’re going with only one light source – here it’s the SK300 II, a very affordable studio flash made by Godox, and it was fitted with a parabolic softbox. We used a cheap backdrop kit, but you can do this even in front of the wall. This photoshoot won’t require a huge working area, nor a studio with high ceilings, and we’ll elaborate why as we go along. However, it is advisable to have someone assist you with make-up, unless you’re going for a particularly natural look.

Shooting steps

  1. Working environment Although you won’t be needing a large studio for this shoot, you should try to find a spacious room so that you won’t have trouble with walls reflecting your light source. Make sure you have enough clearance so you can move around and experiment with different positions.
  2. Set up backdrop This step is pretty straightforward. If you don’t have a backdrop setup like this you can easily improvise – you can even go with a plain white wall, but in that case just make sure you have enough clear surface, without any furniture invading the shot.
  3. Position your lighting The sweet spot for a shot like this would be 2-2.5 metres away from the model and angled around 30-45 degrees up in relation to their face. Don’t position the light too low or you’ll end up with flatlooking light, but also don’t go too high or you’ll have the eyes buried in shadows.
  4. Camera and lens Beauty photography is all about details, so select a camera with a high resolution. Here we’re using Canon’s EOS 5DS. For lens go with a telephoto lens and make sure it’s sharp enough. Having a mediocre lens on a good camera isn’t going to help matters.
  5. Model preparation If make-up is not your thing, try to find someone to help you. It is crucial not to cover the skin with too much make-up, otherwise you’re in for the retouching nightmare – it’s much easier to edit natural imperfections than skin that’s covered with too much powder.
  6. Start shooting Make sure you shoot in RAW format. Feel free to experiment with different angles and poses. If using light with sufficient flash duration, you can shoot without a tripod – you’ll be more flexible with movement and won’t risk blurry images.




CHOOSE YOUR IDEAL PHOTO PAPER – Selecting the best paper for your image is an important decision for guaranteeing professional print quality

Different paper types exhibit a great variety of display properties, which have to be understood for the photographer to be able to predict how their image will look when printed. Paper texture and thickness have a profound impact on how the ink from your printer will interact with the paper surface.

This in turn influences the colour depth and balance of the photograph. It is essential that the paper used is best able to accurately recreate the colours in the original image file, to ensure a reliable image processing and output workflow. It is advisable to run test prints on every paper type, to assess which generates the ideal colour and brightness for your taste.


This is the most universally popular paper type. The shiny, smooth surface creates a very sharp look that suits naturally brightly coloured subjects, such as flowers and those featuring a large amount of fine detail.

The surface is very unforgiving of photo defects, such as camera shake or image noise, but offers a wide colour range.

It is often the best choice for printing high-resolution files. Surface glare and reflections can be an issue in direct lighting.


A variation on satin, these papers have an additional texture that many professional photographers prefer to use for wedding and portrait images. These types of images are likely to be handled more frequently, so this paper is more durable than matte, but still feels pleasant to hold.

Selecting the best paper for your image is an important decision for guaranteeing professional print quality of display properties, which have to be understood for the photographer to be able to predict how their image will look when printed. Paper texture and thickness have a profound.


Aside from the artistic theme the three- dimensional nature of box canvases can offer, canvas is also a great option for printing very large photos, where resolution may have to be compromised for size. The deep texture can also hide defects in the image, such as a slight lack of sharpness, since canvas prints are not as crisp as glossy photo paper. This also makes it unsuitable for finely detailed images. The texture can become a distraction in flat areas, when prints are viewed up close.


Matte papers suffer from less glare than glossy media and so make good large- format prints, destined for mixed-lighting environments where the exact display location is uncertain. Matte is a common choice for printing black and white images, as the textured surface adds to the fine art feel, while the low glare has less detrimental impact on high-contrast monochrome tones. A key disadvantage of matte is print longevity – the surface can easily be damaged through handling and cannot be effectively cleaned.

Choose a paper weight

Generally speaking, the heavier the paper – measured in grams per square metre (GSM) – the better the print. While weight itself does not necessarily impact print quality directly (there are many other factors, such as printer quality and surface texture, that dictate this) heavier paper provides a nicer handling experience. Look for 280gsm or higher for archival prints


Satin paper is pitched as a halfway measure between matte and glossy, featuring a moderate texture and exhibiting qualities of both. Sometimes referred to as ‘semi-gloss’, satin is able to display a good range of colours, while minimising glare and reflection, providing good display properties. Durability is slightly better than matte and prints can be handled with more ease.


No matter how many pixels your camera’s sensor possesses or how much you have paid for your lenses and printer, if you fail to select the appropriate paper on an image-specific basis, you will never achieve the ideal print for your photos.




CREATE ARTISTIC EXPOSURES –  Use exposure wisely to capture the energetic atmosphere of a city

There is a great deal of movement in urban locations. From traffic speeding through busy road intersections, to commuters flowing along pavements during the morning rush hour, cities are full of energy. It is therefore vital that we consider how this will appear in our images and take control of exposure, to ensure the dynamism of our subject shows through. Ultra-short shutter speeds won’t often find a place in an architectural and cityscape photographer’s arsenal, since the frozen movement these generate produces unnaturally static compositions. Long exposures can be used for a multitude of purposes. They can be employed to soften skies for contrast against sharp structural detail, and to produce a soft light quality that creates a painterly style. This balances the distribution of detail throughout the frame.

Exposures of several minutes will also help to minimise distracting elements by removing people and traffic, providing they are not stationary for extended periods. Semi-slow shutter speeds, in the region of two to three seconds, are best for occasions where you want motion to be visible. Try this in places where people, vehicles and clouds are widely spaced, to give them room to move through the frame and remain discrete. Use 30-second exposures and above to capture traffic trails or to apply a silky look to skies, for a neutral backdrop to closer-cropped studies.

The main exposure challenge you will face in a city is the extreme range of contrast.

The dynamic range of current cameras is excellent, but is not wide enough to maintain detail in the brightest highlights and deepest shadows. Moreover, it is mostly impossible to use an graduated neutral density filter, without artificially darkening the tops of foreground buildings.

Software blending options are the best choice in these cases, as full control over localised exposure problems is possible. However, it is then important to consider the method of blending, to avoid the halo effects and noise exaggeration that is synonymous with conventional HDR processing. Intelligent exposure choice can ensure the effective application of creative technique and fundamental tonal management.


Alter your style for each time of day and embrace lighting characteristics

One of the great qualities of urban environments is that the densely populated scenes very easily take on new appearances as the light changes, either reflecting or absorbing colour and tone from the sky. In modern cities, the predominance of glass results in light ‘bouncing’ between buildings, altering its softness and hue. It is possible to shoot the same scene at sunrise, midday and sunset and produce an almost entirely unique atmosphere. Meanwhile, after dark, a city can adopt an otherworldly style as the artificial light from within buildings produces vibrant contrast against the low-light surroundings.

However, each lighting condition presents its own set of exposure challenges, requiring the photographer to recognise where problems may arise and adapt their composition and settings to compensate.

At dawn the biggest advantage is the frequent lack of traffic and people – this is generally when city streets are at their quietest. There is also good colour contrast, with plenty of cool and warm colours present in the sky to blend with or stand out from the artificial street and interior lights. Unfortunately you may also find many building lights are not on in these early hours, presenting backlighting challenges, resulting in loss of shadow detail. A potential solution is to use the reflective properties of modern building materials. The strong lighting can introduce exposure and over-polarisation difficulties, while the top-down light often makes it difficult to pick out texture. Consider using deep contrast to produce punchy monochrome images and use the extended Low ISO setting on your camera to maximise “We can shoot with the rising sun behind us to pick out surface detail and reflections” to use this to our advantage and intentionally underexpose foreground detail to generate silhouette shapes, highlighting the outline of iconic skylines. Alternatively we can shoot with the rising sun behind us to pick out surface detail and reflections.

At midday we experience good contrast, deep blue skies and excellent opportunities shadow detail, while being mindful of highlight loss.

When it comes to shooting at night, the black sky can create a bottom-heavy composition, with little to ‘weigh’ down the top area. Try to compose out as much negative space as possible and wait for the clouds to pick up the colours of the city lights, for better balance in the frame.


Use the many post-processing tools available for imaginative, unique styles

Due to the highly graphic properties of many architectural images, these subjects lend themselves to a broad spectrum of experimental processing techniques. Whether this involves introducing unnatural colour casts and split toning, or removing colour completely for black and white photographs, it helps to be aware of the options available to you and when each will work best.

The use of post-processing software is subject to ongoing scrutiny and is potentially controversial, especially where it involves makingchangestowell-known

These surround modifications to exposure, colour and sharpness, to improve the overall image quality and impact. While there may be some degree of variance, the professional photographers’ processing workflow usually follows a recognisable schedule.

Starting with RAW processing software, the highlight and shadow control tools in these applications are used to balance the tonal range of the image, to produce a file essential retouching (such as removal of dust spots or, if necessary, removal of telephone cables and other distracting elements) it is most effective to move into Photoshop, or an equivalent application. Once here, work on effects and stylising can begin. Deciding on your approach early on will minimise the need to back-track or save multiple versions of your image, which can be necessary if late-stage editing introduces blown highlights or image scenes. In urban photography we have to be extra vigilant that we do not compromise the integrity of our shots to the extent that they are unusable. This is especially applicable when the end goal is to publish files on a commercial basis. It is essential that we balance creativity with truthfulness. The key corrections that are likely to be applied regularly to architectural shots should be free from these constraints.

with good amounts of information in the brightest and darkest areas. Colour is most frequently balanced at this stage too, due to the freedom of white balance choice that the RAW format provides. Lens aberrations and perspective distortions are also best corrected here, being applied non-destructively.

For “In urban photography we have tobevigilanttonotcompromise the integrity of our shots” noise for example. Two main editing routes are to focus on colour, contrast and tone or to placemoreemphasisondetail and texture. While this choice may be influenced by the lighting conditions present at the time of shooting, aligning or contrasting your editing approach will give differing ‘looks’.

Black and white processing tends to suit scenes that already contain a good degree of contrast, and while this can accentuate texture, it is equally effective where deep tones are deemed more desirable than absolute detail. Forward thinking will maximise success.




FIND UNIQUE ANGLES – Look for unusual compositions to shoot engaging, eye-catching images

Composition can make or break any image, but it is even more of an important consideration when attempting to capture photographs in ‘busy’ environments. Cities and other built-up urban areas are usually densely populated, with both people and buildings, making it challenging for the photographer to correctly isolate a single subject on which viewers cancon centrate. Furthermore, buildings themselves often feature a great amount of detail and engaging design elements, which need to be arranged with some thought if the final image is to have the desired impact.

One of the key aspects that may let an architectural image down is the angle from which the structure is shot. If a photo shows a building at eye-level, it is simply recreating a scene anybody could view with their own eyes, stripping away the potential intrigue. In addition, selecting a perspective on a building that merely shows it from one well-known angle is far from creative and wastes the potential demonstrated by all details that are out of shot. Although many have an iconic facade that is instantly recognisable, it is good photographic practice to walk around and explore new angles, before setting up a tripod. Try changing camera height, to exaggerate the vibrant tone of the environment is clear to viewers. This can be lost if the incorrect lens focal length is used – too wide and details seem overly distant, too long and points of interest may be excluded.

Vary lens choice to intentionally experiment with placing a building or “If a photo shows a building at eye-level,itissimplyrecreatinga scene anybody could view with their own eyes” or hide low-level foreground detail. Then experiment with tilting your camera up or down, to see how perspective is altered and how this impacts depth.

This can also help with compositional balance, by excluding the often-busy lower half of the frame, which contains people, cars and street furniture, to produce a bottom-heavy feel. Cityscapes really benefit from an immersive atmosphere, where architectural design in or out of context, by showing more orlessofthesurroundings.

An entirely different theme can be conveyed by simply zooming in a few millimetres. ‘Iconic’ is a theme that can add sales value to your images, or remove it almost entirely – be sure to use your artistic experience to create unique views of widely viewed subjects, to utilise all of the potential a location offers.




ADAPT FOR THE ENVIRONMENT – No one photographic approach suits all building styles. Adjust your shooting style to exploit architectural variety

When you arrive on location in any major urban area, it is possible to feel overwhelmed by the vast array of engaging subjects for our attention and study. Knowing where to start and how best to capture the atmosphere and tone of a city can seem like an impossible task.

A common strategy adopted by beginners is to try and capture everything, all at once, often employing very wide-angle lenses and creating extensive compositions. This is likely a mistake, as the dense levels of detail can quickly swamp an image, and reduce the overall dramatic effect. One style does not fit every building type and design.

The age of the structure has a great influence on how the photographer should approach the subject. Old buildings frequently feature a large amount of coloured, textured stone, with an often angular profile. These “The age of the structure influences how to approach the subject” building materials reflect very little light back towards the camera, resulting in the subject appearing dull when lit from the front and easily underexposed with backlighting. Warm-coloured stone can also introduce white balance problems, by confusing auto-WB systems into making unsightly cyan or green colour casts. To combat exposure issues, take a meter reading from a neutral midtone (such as grey), and use +2/3EV exposure compensation to lift the shadows, while simultaneously neutralising unexpected colour shifts. Using a preset WB or manual colour temperature also offers more predictable colour control.

When shooting modern structures that use large amounts of glass in their construction, be prepared to adjust camera settings to compensate for the highly reflective properties. Bright ‘hotspots’ are common, especially under midday sun, so use -1EV approximately to avoid loss of highlight detail. Compose so that the sun is not directly visible in a reflection, to make exposure calculation manageable. Contemporary designs use more curves and sinuous lines than pre-20th Century architecture, so try wider framing to emphasise the ‘direction’ of the design philosophy – the leading lines.



Discover techniques to producing unique and highly creative images of everyday still life

SHOOT STILL LIFE LIKE A PRO – Still life photography may not be as ubiquitous as landscapes or portrait photography, but it has a lot going for it as a subject matter to work with.

For a start, it’s virtually limitless, as there are no real rules about the kind of subject matter you can capture, and it’s an ideal home studio pursuit. However, not knowing exactly where to start with the nuances of composition and lighting can put some people off, which is why we’ve asked Kasia Burke to take a look at the ins and outs of this genre and explain some of her influences, working practices and shooting techniques. She also explores some of the considerations required when working for a client and gives some editing advice.


Learn essential tips to utilising natural soft light in your still life photography


SHOOT IN NATURAL LIGHTING Learn essential tips to utilising natural soft light in your still life photography

Shooting still life has an advantage in that because you’ll mostly be shooting inanimate objects, you have the luxury of being able to use long shutter speeds if needed. So, shooting with natural, soft lighting becomes really easy. You have the option of shooting with a closed aperture if you want sharpness throughout the image, and can maintain a low ISO (100 or less) for greater sharpness and bright colours. You’ll need a tripod or at least a sturdy place to balance your camera, and shoot with the timer on or a shutter release to ensure you don’t nudge the camera when releasing the shutter. The disadvantage of using the ambient light is that depending on the weather, the colour temperature will change from project to project or even within the same shoot. If you want all your imagery to look the same, you’ll need to take care of both the colour balance in-camera and how you process your imagery afterwards.

Direct sunlight can create dramatic effects that look great especially when converted to high-contrast monochrome. Shady lighting can 1Set up Even with a small space to work in simple, clean natural lighting can be possible. This test shot uses the light from the bay window on the other side of the studio, which bounces off the white wall and ceiling to give me plenty of light.

4Initial tweaks I open my selected images in Camera Raw and make some adjustments. I bring down the highlights and up the detail in the shadows. A bit of clarity helps the image pop. Then I use Photoshop for any final adjustments. give a softer, more natural image combined with a wide-open aperture for a shallow depth of field, which can create some really dreamy effects focusing in on very particular areas of the shot whilst blurring out backgrounds.

When planning a still life shoot in daylight you’ll need to make note of the direction of the sun at your location, including the time of day and year, which will dictate when your shoot happens. If shooting outdoors keep an eye on the weather, and be prepared for anything.

Diffusers, reflectors and flags are really useful, and if you are happy to mix your lighting then carry a speedlight with you to fill in shadows or bounce light off walls and ceilings. Use a coloured gel to balance out the flash light with the ambient light.

Composition and setup doesn’t always need to be contrived. Some of my favourite still life images are of nature in situ. With a clever bit of post-processing and retouching you can isolate your subject either by darkening the background or cutting out the subject from its environment.


Take control of your lighting with a creative studio setup

The main advantage of using studio lighting for still life photography is the control. Using just a basic two-head kit and a small array of diffusers it is possible to create a wide variety of looks and styles. Softboxes are great to give a soft but directional and controlled amount of light to your subject.

A backlight is essential for most shoots to really make an image pop, but this can also be done by reflecting back the key light. I like to have my key light coming from behind and then reflect back onto my subject from the front to create a soft fill with subtle tones and detail. Umbrellas are great for lighting up the whole scene with huge bursts of soft lighting, or for more control you could use a snoot to pinpoint specific areas of the composition to be lit, which is great for backlighting too.

I like to use a grid attached to a beauty dish as my key light, which gives me the Old Masters’ low-key lighting I desire. If you are new to studio lighting then take time to experiment. Choose a few simple objects and just play with the lights and composition. Try all angles and directions and see what you like and whether it creates the mood you are after. Remember there is no right or wrong when you are being creative. Research styles by With a studio lighting setup I can control the lighting exactly how I want, and this way I will know that the colour balance and power will be the same throughout a shoot if I want it to be looking at still life paintings and photography and learn techniques from the best.

Shooting commercially can be very different. More often than not I will be asked to shoot sharp, clean images onto white for simple product photography for catalogues and online shops. There are many ways this can be done, but I like to use a white box tent placed on top of a light box table. I can light the tent from underneath, behind, from the sides or from above with the studio heads. Set up the camera on a tripod to make sure that every similar product in the shoot is shot at the same angle and height.


I have set my ISO to 125. This gives me true colour replication and clarity. This test shot was lit using one head with a honeycomb grid from behind and a silver reflector in the opposite corner

Shooting still life doesn’t always mean inanimate objects. It took a while to wake up these garden snails, but the results were spectacular. Star performers, who’d have known?


Ensure 100 per cent client satisfaction in a professional project

When shooting for a client the first thing to do is to get a feel for their business and the message that they want to purvey. Working with smaller companies or individuals often means dealing with the owner directly. A client will normally approach me because they have seen my work and would like something in my style, but not always, so it is important to make sure that their requirements are fully understood beforehand.

If they have images in mind that are not your own, then it’s a good idea to put together a mood board or a selection of images to reference to. Once a style is established

a client may then leave the rest to the photographer. This entails a huge element of trust on both parts, so even when a client gives you free reign it is advisable to put a plan or sketch of the final images together for them to approve. On the other spectrum a client can be extremely controlling and may want to be involved with every process. They may have their own stylists or designers, in which case you will need to be prepared to work with a team of people that are not your usual go-to specialists.

The photoshoot here was for an artist named Humna Mustafa; she came to me because she had seen my work and wanted to have images of her kitchenware in a lifestyle setting with an arty edge. We talked extensively about her passion for her own designs and in turn this really inspired my own work. As a client she was very relaxed and trusted me to create something beautiful and unique for her collection.

After any shoot I like to do my own pre-edit using the star function in Photoshop Bridge. Open the folder in Bridge and do a quick one star for all images, leaving out test shots, multiples or other shots that just don’t meet the customer brief. Then with the star filter selected I would either let the client look through the images and allow them to select their preferred images by my side, or I would do that on my own on their behalf. Again this comes with an element of trust between photographer and client. Depending on the shoot this could go to 3, 4 or 5 stars.

Once the final images have been selected

I then open these in Adobe Camera Raw for some post-processing and then some final adjustments or retouching over in Photoshop.


Understand some of the key influences and concepts behind these unique still life shots

My still life work is influenced by the style of Old Master paintings from the 17th Century whose illuminations I replicate through a very controlled low-key lighting. I keep it simple, although this doesn’t necessarily mean easy. Where a painter can set up a composition

and tailor the lighting as they desire, with photography the lighting needs to be cast in exactly the right place to achieve the desired effect. Adjustments can be made in post- processing but I believe in getting it right in- camera initially so that hardly any work in post is needed at all.

I mostly use flash studio lighting which means I have control over the light, rather than relying on available light which could differ throughout the day in colour temperature and strength. I use flash lighting which allows fruit, flowers or other perishable items to stay fresher rather than under the hot lamps of continuous lighting.

I’d usually have plenty of props to accessorise a composition, to tie in colour or to create the story, but in this project the vegetables speak for themselves, and as always sometimes less is more.

As a majority of the subjects in my own projects or commissioned work tend to be around food I have many shelves stacked with props: jugs, cups, bottles, bowls and an array of utensils, tools and other curious objects. Occasionally the props become the subject.

I have a penchant for bric-a-brac and love browsing the charity shops or flea markets to find little treasures that could inspire a whole shoot or be the perfect accessory to a shoot

I already have in mind. It is always better to have enough props and multiples of your subject as possible. You just never know what might be needed and once in the middle of shooting it is not the time to realise you are missing something. The more preparation time spent in advance the better, but it also pays to be flexible with your ideas, as some things just don’t work out exactly as planned. If you are working for a client then a test shoot is advisable before any promises are made if you are not entirely sure a concept will work


Refine your photography with subtle yet effective digital imaging techniques

To maintain high-end imagery it’s advisable to shoot in RAW, so that any adjustments made in post will retain their quality. Saying this, it is better to get everything as close as possible to the final result desired in-camera so that post- processing is minimal. Unless of course you are looking for a special effect, in which case the way you shoot will be pre-emptive to the effect you are looking for in post. It is a good idea to have a vision of your final image, as this way you are going in with the knowledge that certain aspects will be edited for effect, rather than needing to edit mistakes.

Best practice is to back up all your RAW files straight away. I do this on an external hard drive, but you can back up to a cloud if you prefer. Once I’ve selected the images I want to work with I’d make a copy of the RAW image, before I open my file in Camera Raw where I’d make my first adjustments. I tend to bring down the highlights and push up detail in the shadows. I’d then recoup my blacks and maybe increase the clarity marginally. The changes are slight but make a difference.

I’d then open up the image in Photoshop for some fine-tuning. Ultimately I want to show my images in print and I use a specialist art printer that I have worked with for a few years now. The choice of paper will also have an important impact on the final image, and I still get excited every time I see my images in print.

INTERVIEW about Landscape photography

INTERVIEW about Landscape photography

INTERVIEW about Landscape photography

Landscape photography is a deceptively difficult genre to master. While there are potential subjects everywhere for any photographer to enjoy, actually crafting an effective and timeless composition is no easy task. Expert landscape photographer Pawel Zygmunt ( has first-hand experience of all the major challenges and has learned how best to overcome them.

What got you started in photography? Tell us about your early career.

I always dreamed of taking photographs and my first fascination was with black

and white street photography. That was 17 years ago, in Poland, in a time where there was no access to fast internet, to get all the information required to even start learning. I didn’t have much money to spend either, as I was at university.

I remember getting my first camera, which was a Soviet Union-manufactured Zenit. I also bought black and white film for it with 12 frames to shoot. As I didn’t know anything about composition and light, I wasted that film and had only two photographs exposed more or less correctly. That discouraged me for few years until my access to [training materials] became easier. I tried again when I emigrated to Ireland in 2005, and got my first digital camera, a Nikon D200. I discovered that travelling and landscape photography was my destiny.

What are your favourite landscape subjects and why?

I don’t have a favourite landscape subject, but most of my shots are seascapes. This could very much be caused by the fact that

I live on an island! I absolutely love places where the ocean meets with land, especially Western and Northern parts of Ireland’s coast. From massive sea stacks, sea caves and blowholes to ripped cliffs or even mountains falling into rough waters; from waves crashing onto the cliffs or washing stones on the beach, to calm turquoise waters and calm bays – you find all of that in Ireland, as well as beautiful mountains, lakes and places so secluded and rugged that you’ll forget you are living in times of globalisation.

What cameras and lenses do you usually use for your photography?

I now use a Nikon D810 and I always have two standard landscape lenses with me, which are a Nikkor 16-35mm f4 and Sigma 24-70mm f2.8. I am planning to buy a Nikon 70-200mm f4 and Samyang 14mm f2.8 in the near future.

What are you trying to say with your images? Are you trying to tell a story?

Since I mostly photograph landscapes of Ireland and Scotland, my photographs are about the beauty of these two countries. My message is clear – you have to visit these places to feel their power and you will never forget the experience. Light is the power in photography and light in Ireland and Scotland can be amazing, which is what I am trying to show.

How do you decide if colour or black and white will work best for an image?

I always shoot in colour and then change into monochrome in post-processing. I prefer colour photographs however and when out on location, I can usually predict what will work better in black and white. It has to do with how much light is in the scene or what kind of weather I’ve got. For example when

I get harsh morning light or a fully overcast, stormy sky I will quite often decide to go for black and white.

What challenges do you find in your line of work and how do you overcome these?

Building strong compositions is still something I am trying to improve. When I’m out there I sometimes struggle to find a decent frame and start panicking right before sunrise or sunset, afraid I won’t get anything. If I’m in a very good location, I try to do too much, instead of focusing on one particular shot. While stressful, I’ve learned how to handle it better – I already mentioned that I always have my main subject in mind before I go on location, so all I have to find is something interesting in the foreground.

Do you have a favourite image from the selection you sent us and why?

The stag image I photographed on my recent trip to Scotland. It was an adventure to be so close to a wild animal. It was so unexpected – I was just passing and as I don’t really have a proper wildlife lens, I didn’t plan it at all. He was just sitting there and resting when I got out of the vehicle. I slowly approached it to a few metres and took a photo handheld at 35mm. The deer composes so well into the beautiful Scottish Highland scenery and looks like he is watching over his land.

Is there a location you’d love to visit with your camera and why?

I’d really love to visit Iceland and Norway one day, mainly because I have never experienced an aurora show. That definitely would be the main attraction, but Iceland and Norway are also known for fantastic landscapes. On my first trip I’d like to go to the most iconic locations and another trip would be to reach deeper.

What tips would you give photographers new to your favourite genres?

Landscape photography can be a bit frustrating at the start but don’t get discouraged – it will all come with time. To start, get tips from other photographers, social media and YouTube. There is so much material that people can learn from and with such easy access to it, you can make very quick progress. Always plan your trip by checking [everything from] weather, tides and wind speed to light direction. If you come to the spot well prepared you minimise your chance of failure. Enjoy discovering new places and take photography as an extra to it.

What is next? What are your photographic ambitions for the future?

I’d love to try myself in astrophotography and because it involves learning new post- processing techniques, it could improve my editing in general, helping me in producing better photographs.

It would be nice to get to know other places in Europe and maybe even on other continents. The world is so beautiful and is just full of spectacular things, waiting to be discovered.

Planning is power

Creating unique landscape compositions can be difficult, especially when you’re spoiled for choice A big challenge faced by landscape photographers is isolating a single subject, amongst the plethora of framing possibilities you might find at a location.

Pawel adopts a classic strategy to solving this problem. “I always try to be on location as early as possible, at least two hours before sunrise or sunset, so I can enjoy the place and feel it before I start taking any pictures,” he explains. “I have time to walk around, to look for some point of interest or to just sit down and watch the changing light.

I usually know what I am going to photograph before I go, as I do some research at home. Knowing my main subject, I look for something which can lead the eye to it. Sometimes, when I find myself in a situation where it’s difficult to find a strong composition, I try to make it up by catching great light.”

By leaving time to explore all of the possible perspectives, Pawel is able to better match his pre-imagined creative vision, resulting in a more efficient and less stressful photoshoot. This demonstrates how good use of time yields more successful shots. His approach also enables him to better enjoy his surroundings and create a connection with the scene.