5 Tips for a Perfect Family Portrait Session

The key is to acknowledge and then prepare for and minimize the risks. When shooting a family portrait session, follow these tips provided by the Family Photographer, and you’ll be on your way to capturing images your subjects will cherish for ages. Make sure to hire a professional photographer like Sarah Drewry for your family photos, get info about her here https://sarahdrewryphoto.com/.

1. Plan Your Location Wisely

Nobody wants to stand in the hot sun—or in the freezing cold—for an hour or more. Time your portrait around the season. In summer, always plan on sunrise or sunset to avoid the heat of the day (and to capture the best light). In winter, you may need to shoot on a weekend if it’s getting dark before Mom or Dad will get off work.

Likewise, we can’t control the weather, so include a Plan B when you book, whether that’s an alternate, covered location, a backup day or simply a location that includes both outdoor and indoor or covered options for shooting (like a gazebo or broad front porch).

Of course, remember that an overcast day can often lead to the best images, with even light across faces and nobody squinting into the sun.

2. Bring the Right Clothing

Maybe your client was envisioning a summer beach scene, but a cold snap has set in, or it’s incredibly windy outside. Gently assure them that they’ll be happier with photos of smiling, bundled up children than they will be with red-eyed, crying and shivering children in short sleeves.

If you’re shooting for a family’s holiday portrait or another special occasion, ask if they’d prefer to keep their wardrobe on a theme or go with a more neutral look. Festive holiday attire or even ugly Christmas sweaters can be fun, but they may regret choosing a look that’s not relevant year-round.

It’s a good idea to have everyone bring a backup outfit, especially for kids. You never know when someone might spill their sippy cup of grape juice or baby might have an accident on Dad’s neat ironed Oxford shirt.

3. Prep the Kids

This is the most important tip for shoots with families. As the photographer, let the parents know to prep their kids for the shoot, beginning days in advance. Build it up to be a fun event that they look forward to, followed by a treat, like ice cream or a visit to the bowling alley.

While the anticipation factor is important, the same day buildup is even more crucial. Children should arrive with full bellies! Hungry children are unhappy children. If they still nap, make sure they get their full nap on the day of the shoot.

You can’t do enough to impart to parents the importance of bringing their kids to the session at their very best. A photo session is not the same as dropping them off at Grandma’s house!

4. Keep Kids Engaged During the Shoot

When you first meet a family for a shoot, spend five to ten minutes getting to know the kids. Run around with them. Consider bringing a small toy as a gift, or a stuffed animal you can introduce to them and let them play with. If they’re comfortable around you, they’re more likely to smile and behave during the shoot.

Bring a treat or snack for the kids (or prep the parents to do this). Photo shoots are the rare case where it’s okay to offer children a small bribe!

Finally, be ready to work fast. Often, the best pictures of children occur in the first 20 to 30 minutes of a shoot.

5. Stay On the Move

Even adults can quickly tire of having their photo taken, but the more images you capture, in the most scenes and locations, the more variety and options you’ll have to offer your clients.

Every few minutes in one location, switch up your subjects’ stances. Have Dad hold Junior, or have Sister stand with her hand on Mom’s shoulder. Then immediately mix it up by having them casually walk toward you, looking at each other, to capture a candid moment.

Don’t stay in any one location for more than 10 to 15 minutes. Plan to move around your site. The time between spots is a chance to chat and get more comfortable with your subjects, and to let the kids have a break and run around before asking them to sit still again. It’s also a chance to capture great candid moments.

Photo Editing for Amateurs: Discovering Canva

photo editing softwareIn late 2014 and early 2015 I wrote a series of posts about photo editing that focused on software and techniques to make good photos even better.  In the first post I covered photo editing software and introduced numerous programs and apps that offer a variety of functions in varying degrees of difficulty (click here to read that post).  Recently I discovered a program that, in my opinion, is the best of the best for amateur photo editing.  It’s called Canva Photo Editor.  And it’s awesome!  Canva Photo Editor is a FREE online photo editing program and it is exceptionally easy to use.  I opened the page and within 30 seconds I was working on a photo.  The homepage of the app features a big green “Upload” button in the center.  Click on that or drag a photo file onto the screen and you’re in business.

Fun Photo Filters

photo editing softwareMy image loaded quickly and the fun began!  Canva Photo Editor offers a number of tools to enhance and modify photographs, and they start with Filters.  I chose to play with a flattering selfie and it was fun and easy to click through the various filters to see what each did to my portrait.  Eventually I settled on “Edge” because, well, I’m nothing if not edgy!

Brightness, Contrast and Saturation

photo editing softwareWhen I clicked on the Edge filter I liked what it did to the look of the image but it also made it a little to bright for my taste.  No problem!  All I had to do was click on the “Adjust” icon and I was presented with sliders to adjust for Brightness, Contrast, and Saturation.  I LOVE sliders in photo editing software!  They make it so easy to make adjustments while watching the effects on the image.  On this pic I decreased the brightness and bumped up the contrast and saturation.

Simple Cropping

photo editing softwareI was satisfied with the look I created so I moved on to the Crop tool.  If you don’t do a lot of photo editing, cropping a photo can cause a brain cramp.  Not in the Canva Photo Editor!  Above the image you’ll find boxes that link to several aspect ratios, and you can click on each to see how a pic will look cropped to that ratio.  From there you simply grab the handle in one of the corners and drag the ratio box in and out until you like the look.  It’s that simple!  Though I would have liked to have additional options (like 4:5 to make 8×10 prints or 851×315 pixels to create a Facebook cover photo), those that are there will work in a lot of scenarios.

Easy Resizing

Sometimes I need to change the physical size of a photo.  In more complicated photo editing software that requires multiple actions.  In the Canva Photo Editor it is handled simply by clicking on the Resize icon and typing in the size you need.

Flip Flop

photo editing softwarePerhaps my favorite function in Canva is the Flip feature.  With one click I changed my right-leaning head tilt to a left-leaner.  I turned myself upside down too!  This can be useful when trying to make a photo fit into a design but a person or object is placed in a spot that doesn’t work.  Move them!

When I finished making magic I clicked on the Download button in the upper right and was able to easily save my masterpiece.  The software also gave me the option of checking out the Canva app.  Canva describes itself as “Amazingly Simple Graphic Design Software”, and I can attest that they are not exaggerating.  But that is a story for another day!

If you love taking photos and/or like to use them on social media but have a little intimidated by photo editing software I highly recommend that you check out Canva Photo Editor.  You’ll find it’s easy to use and produces great results – and the price is right!  Give it a try and have fun!

Portrait Photography – The Gift My Subjects Give Me

portrait photographyI did a lot of portrait photography last week.  I expected that.  What I didn’t expect was that I received a gift from my subjects.  And their gift to me has transformed the way I think about my people photography. If you’re looking for CR123A battery, Aussiebattery has the cheapest batteries online.

I’ve been doing portrait photography for a long time now.  Mostly pets.  But lately, more and more humans.  And as I’ve been photographing more people I’ve become a bit fascinated with what makes the difference between an average photo and a great portrait or head shot.  Lighting?  Of course.  Lens choice?  Certainly.  Makeup, styling and wardrobe?  Yes, yes, and yes.  But I know from experience that I can have all those things dialed in and still have a photo that is good, but not great.

Last week I was the “Official Photographer” for the PetSittingOlogy Conference in Las Vegas.  PetSittingOlogy is a service for professional pet sitters, and each year they host a conference focused on business development, marketing and other vital business topics.  Part of what I did was set up a studio to take head shots of attendees that they could use on their websites, social media, etc.  It was planned to be a bit of an assembly line – brief mini-sessions squeezed in between conference presenters and meals.

I expected to take good photographs.  I mean hey, I always expect to create good photographs.  What I didn’t expect was the emotional experience the photo sessions would create for both my subjects and me.

As a rule, the people I was shooting were not excited to be in front of the camera.  They were not actors or models and not especially keen to be the center of attention.  It was more of a necessary evil, a need for their business.  It was clear from the outset that people were nervous, even panicked, about stepping in front of the camera.  Deer meet headlights.  Shoulders meet ears.  All the classic signs.  As each new person stepped onto the set the tension ratcheted up again and I felt it hit me in waves.

portrait photographyBut shortly thereafter something wonderful occurred.  I would shoot while my great assistant Laura and I would engage and entertain our model.  After a few pops of the flash I would invite our new friend to come and see her shots on the computer.  And this was the moment, over and over again, that I will cherish forever.  Each person would see herself in a way she had never seen before.  And she liked what she saw.  Sometimes even LOVED what she saw.  There were smiles.  A few tears.  I could see pride.  I could see confidence.  People saw themselves as the beautiful humans they are.  As Laura said, “It was awesome.  It was SO awesome!”

And it was such a gift to me.  A person willing to step in front of the camera despite their instincts, to overcome fears and anxiety, and to trust me that I will make them look and feel good is a real act of kindness.  And the people who were kind to me last week altered the way I view portrait photography.  They helped me understand more deeply that making a good portrait is a lot less about apertures and shutterspeeds, and so much more about relationship and partnership.  Focusing on the former will yield a well-exposed photograph.  Tending to the latter will create rich portraits that express the spirit and beauty of the subject.  Laura said it perfectly: “Everyone is beautiful!  Everyone shines!  You are who you are, and that’s awesome!”  Thanks to the wonderful pet sitters at PetSittingOlogy, I was reminded to worry less about the studio lights and to really tend to the light inside each person who trusts me to take their picture.

Professional Head Shot – Why YOU Need One

Think actors are the only ones who need professional head shots?  I did too.  Think again!

Why YOU Need a Professional Head Shot

professional head shot

Stephanie Hazard

In the age of social media a professional head shot is a MUST for any serious business person.  Back in the day it seemed only realtors, insurance agents and a select few other industries required the presence of a photograph on business cards and advertisements.  We didn’t see pictures of the owner of the print shop or the manager of the security company.  Now every professional has at least a minimal presence online, perhaps on Facebook or LinkedIn.  And savvy marketers are including their images in numerous contexts, including social media, websites, networking venues and even print or billboard ads.

A blog post in the Wall Street Journal states that LinkedIn profiles with photos are 11 times more likely to be viewed than one without a picture.  The next sentence in the piece makes a critical point:  “And a high-quality image with good lighting and a neutral background tends to hook employers more than sloppy selfies, career experts say.”  In fact, the post highlights a college in Wisconsin that offers a professional head shot FREE to all of its students to support their success in internship and job searches.

Why Is A Professional Head Shot Effective?

professional head shot

Chris Onthank, The Canine Master

Consider your objectives in your marketing efforts.  You’re spending a lot of time or money or both to speak to your potential customers.  Sure, you’re informing them about the products and/or services you offer.  That’s the easy part.  More than that, though, aren’t you trying to establish a relationship with your potential clients?  You want them to know they can trust you.  That you’re professional.  That you’re reliable.  They say a picture speaks a thousand words, and a good professional head shot can speak to your future customers in a way words never can.  (By the way, BAD photos speak just as loudly as good ones, so be sure to exclude that shot from last weekend’s kegger in your marketing presence!).

But I Hate Having My Picture Taken!

I feel your pain.  I choose to stand behind the camera almost any day.   But I have an exception to that preference – when a photographer friend whom I trust and whose skills I respect offers to make my photo.  Why does that change the game?  Because I know he or she will make me look my best – and at least they won’t make me look stupid!  So it’s not really that I hate having my picture taken, it’s that I am anxious that I’m going to look bad in a picture.  Have your professional head shot made by a photographer you trust and you can leave that anxiety at the studio door.

Invest In Your Business

The good news is that a professional head shot is a relatively painless and affordable way to invest in your business, reach new customers and increase sales.  The cost to have a business portrait made depends on the photographer, the geographical area, and the outcomes you desire from your session.  If you’re looking for a brief session with one “look” (a look is a pose, styling and wardrobe combination) and just need small files to use on social media you may spend $200-$300 for a good product.  If you want a little more from your session, like several wardrobe options and different backgrounds and the ability to use larger files for print advertising, you can expect to pay up to $500 or more with a high quality professional.  A terrific “add on” to a session (especially for women) is a makeup artist and/or hair stylist.  A good stylist can make a big difference in creating a quality professional head shot.

Just Do It

It’s not a question of IF you need a professional head shot!  You do.  So just do it!  Put it on your To Do List.  High on the list!  Or better yet, right now do a search for “professional head shot” or “head shot photographer” and check out the options in your area (If you live in the NY Metro area I have an excellent recommendation for you – ME!).  A session will take an hour or two of your time and will be of tremendous benefit to your business.

Want to see some of my best head shots?  Visit my website.  If I can be of any help please don’t hesitate to contact me.

You’re Not A Bad Person Because Your Dog Won’t Sit!

It happens nearly every time I do pet photos.  Human and canine enter the room and within a few seconds human will say “I don’t know how you’re going to do this because [insert dog name here] isn’t very well behaved.”  The statement is laden with shame and embarrassment, and is a tactical move – as if acknowledging it up front will somehow soften the harsh judgement that is certainly forthcoming from the photographer.  Here’s what I want you to know: You’re not a bad person because your dog won’t sit!  And I’m still going to make a great photograph!

Connecticut pet photographerIf it offers any comfort, you should know that MOST dogs behave the way yours does.  Consider their perspective: they are coming into a new environment that is filled with all sorts of delicious dog smells.  They are meeting people they’ve never met before.  And they are surrounded by scary electronic equipment that makes noises and flashes.  I wouldn’t sit either!  It is completely natural for dogs to want to run around and explore and sniff and evaluate.  So we allow time for that.  We know that after a little while this will allow the pup to focus on modeling.  For some dogs it takes just a few minutes, and for others it can take longer.  I’ll wait.  I’ll use some of my time-tested tricks and noises and treats and whatever it takes to help [insert dog name here] look his or her best.  And no matter how long it takes I won’t judge you!

Want to walk into your session with more confidence?   Here are a few tips to help you prepare for great pet photos:

~Do some training with [insert dog name here] before the photo session.  If [insert dog name here] wasn’t at the top of his/her obedience class, practice sit and stay a couple of times each day for a few days before the pictures.  Use treats or toys or both as rewards.  I am continually amazed at how quickly dogs can learn, and just a few training sessions will make a world of difference in front of the camera.
~Take [insert dog name here] for a walk before the photo session.  If he/she has had some exercise [insert dog name here] will be happier and more relaxed.  A walk for them is like a massage or a drink for us – it takes the edge off.  If your dog has expended some energy on a walk he/she will have less to spend on reacting to all the stimuli that the photo area can present.  Practice the sit and stay commands while you walk and you’ll really be helping!
~“OMG, there’s something attacking my head!!!”  If you want [insert dog name here] to wear a costume or clothes or a hat, let him/her wear it before the shoot.  A dog’s instincts tell him/her that something on his/her head is a threat and should be removed as soon as possible.  Help [insert dog name here] understand that this thing on his/her head is not a threat and leaving it there leads to treats.  He/she will be sporting a chapeau as often as possible!  And the photos will be great!
~Relax!  Know that we’re going to get great photos of your dog and that we’re not going to assess your intelligence, parenting skills, or character based on how [insert dog name here] behaves in the time we spend together.  Come in ready to work with us to help [insert dog name here] be as comfortable as possible, and that will make for some terrific photos.

So really, it’s going to be alright.  Your dog will not be the worst model I’ve ever met.  I promise.  Come…relax…have fun…and help us make great pictures.

For more information about booking a private photo session for your dog visit the Pricing page on my website.


Dog Gone Smart Catalog

The last two years I have been fortunate to work with the great team at Dog Gone Smart Pet Products to create images for their wholesale catalog.  DGS makes the highest quality dog beds and jackets, as well as some truly innovative products like the Dirty Dog Door Mat and the Zip n’ Dri dog drying system.  I encourage you to see their full line of products at www.dgspetproducts.com.

I have a great time working with Chris, Emily, Jaimee and the Dog Gone Smart crew, and I appreciate their commitment to animal rescue.  Many of the “models” in the catalog are pets that were once homeless but have since found their forever homes.

The newest version of their catalog was finished this week by graphic designer extraordinaire Marisu Valencia and features my photography.  Check it out (hover at the bottom to flip pages) :


My Etsy Shop – Open for Business

My Etsy Shop is open for business!  In the last few years I have heard the same suggestion on numerous occasions: “You should sell your prints.”  For various reasons, some practical and most psychological, I have not forayed into the “fine art print” realm.  Until today.

This morning I opened a shop on Etsy and made available seventeen photographs from my trips to Africa.  The current inventory includes 20×20 inch black & white prints on canvas.  Lions, elephants, leopard, cheetah, and giraffe are all represented.  I’ll add more in the future, and may even diversify a bit and include some of my dog images or perhaps some landscapes (if you would like to see something in particular I welcome your feedback!).  But I’ll start with the current collection and see how it goes.

I hope you’ll take a look!  To visit my shop go to www.etsy.com/shop/MichaelBagleyPhotoetsy shop


Photo Editing for Amateurs: Part V – Cropping (and the Rule of Thirds)

Cropping is one of the best – and easiest – ways of making a good photograph even better.  Cropping is simply eliminating some of the data that emerged from the camera.  Sometimes we crop to get in closer to a subject.  Other times it might be to eliminate a distraction that takes away from the main subject.  We might crop to change the proportions of a picture for printing, like taking a 4×6 proportion image and making it an 8×10.  And sometimes it might be to make the photograph more dynamic by changing the placement of the subject(s).

Here are a couple of examples of how cropping improves an image:


Even with a telephoto lens I couldn’t get very close to the far fence, but by cropping the image I am able to bring attention to Augusta and her pony.



The original photo (left) of me and one of my very reluctant models includes lots of distractions – the white tube, the fence, lots of colors, textures, etc. Cropping in and changing the orientation from landscape to portrait completely transforms the image.



Most cameras will capture an image with a ratio of 2:3 (e.g. 4″x6″, 8″x12″, etc.) like the original photo on the left. A portrait will often look great in an 8″x10″ format as in the version on the right. It eliminates the unimportant aspects of the photograph at the top and bottom but retains and leaves room for the important elements like the head, shoulders and arms. The 8″x10″ enlargement is one of the most popular print sizes and one of the easiest to find a frame for.


The Rule of Thirds

One of my favorite reasons to crop is to create a more dynamic image.  It’s always great to capture a photograph perfectly framed in the camera.  While that’s relatively easy to do with a still life or a landscape, that’s not always so when your subject is human, canine or feline.  Especially young versions of those life forms!  When you need to you can turn to the crop tool.  A terrific way of adding interest to a photograph is to employ the Rule of Thirds.  This technique has been used for centuries in paintings and design, and is implemented regularly in photography and cinema. When you look at a picture, imagine an overlay that divides a photo into three evenly-spaced columns and three evenly-spaced rows (see top half of second image below).  The points where the dividing lines meet is a great location to place your subject as it creates more energy and interest in the photograph.


This picture of Roxy is fun, but placing her in the center of the frame limits the energy of the photograph.

Rule of Thirds

By applying the Rule of Thirds a viewer’s eye travels around the photograph, making it more interesting and dynamic.


Most photo editing software will have a simple cropping function.  Typically they will offer the option of cropping to predetermined dimensions (e.g. 4×6, 8×10, etc.) as well as the ability to crop to non-standard proportions.  They all work in WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) mode, so you can view the results of your changes as you make them.

So dive into your crop tool and give it a try!  Make a good picture better.  Make several versions of the same image and see which you like best.  Move the subject to a different part of the frame to make it more interesting.  You’ll be amazed at what a difference you can make in your photographs.

Photo Editing for Amateurs: Part IV – Color Temperature

Before diving into color temperature I feel compelled to make excuses for the gap in time since my last post.  So here goes.  My wife and I moved to our new home two weeks before Christmas.  Perfect timing.  Then the holidays came and went.  And, well, here we are.  So despite my best intentions to blog on the regular, it didn’t happen.  The road to hell, and all that.  But I’m back and ready to roll!  So let’s dive into color temperature.

Color temperature is one of the most important – and also one of the easiest! – adjustments you can make to your photos.  I’d argue that if you are going to make one adjustment to an image it should be the color temperature.  You can adjust the exposure and add contrast and do a host of other things, but it won’t matter if your white dog looks blue!

What Is Color Temperature – And Do I Need A Jacket?

Every light source we encounter has a temperature.  Measured in degrees Kelvin (you remember that from 8th grade physics class, right?), “cool” light has a low temperature like 3000 degrees and makes white things look blue (think of a pile of snow on a cloudy day) while “warm” light in the range of 7000 degrees makes white things look orange (think of the glow of a fire in the fireplace or the golden light at sunset).  Middle-of-the-day sunlight is right in the middle at around 5500 degrees, so daylight tends to be neutral in color.  Camera flashes are set to mimic that color, which is why things look okay when we use flash.   Artificial lights that we encounter at home or inside buildings each have their own color temperature – regular incandescent light bulbs are warm, fluorescent lights are cool, and those sodium vapor lights in your child’s gym are just plain ugly!  Our brains have been trained to filter out these colors, so when you see someone wearing a white shirt next to a table lamp your brain tells you the shirt is white even though your eyes see it as yellow-orange.  When you see your white dog in the snow your eyes see blue, but your brain tells you Fluffy is white.  If you look at photographs of those subjects the camera captures the light as your eyes see the scene, not the way your brain interprets it.  So when we think about color temperature in photography we are considering the coolness or warmth of the color of the light landing on our subject.  We’re not going to worry about Dr. Kelvin, but we are going to pay attention to how the light looks.

Digital cameras can recognize the color of the light coming in and make an educated guess as to how to balance it or make it neutral.  Most cameras have an Auto White Balance setting to do just that.  Or you can change the setting if you know the light in which you’ll be shooting.  But the camera doesn’t always get it spot on.  And sometimes you might have the camera set for one condition and you shoot in a different light.  That’s easy to fix in your photo editing software.

How Do I Adjust For Color Temperature?

The easiest place to start when assessing and adjusting for color temperature is selecting something white.  Because white is white it’s easy to tell if there is a color cast on that part of the photo.  Check out the two versions below of the dog running on the beach.

color temperature

The photo on the left is what the camera captured.  Not bad.  But the temperature of the image is “cool”, so when I look at Fluffy’s white fur I see that it isn’t really white.  It’s blue.  But because my brain knows from experience that there aren’t usually blue dogs running on a beach, I perceive that blue color as white.  Similarly, after adjusting the color temperature in my editing software I went too far to the other end of the spectrum (literally!) and made Fluffy too warm.  Now he’s not white but he’s orange.  Finally, I backed off the warm temperature a bit and ended up with a neutral color cast – and a white Fluffy!

color temperature

As with many edits you can make to your photos, there is no “right” way a picture should look.  I like very much the warm photo (on the right) above.  It makes me feel like it was taken late on a warm July day, when in fact it was shot in the middle of the day in below-freezing December.  I may choose to print it warmer because I like that.  And that’s fine.  I often adjust the temperature a touch to the warm side for my people pictures as humans tend to look better that way.  If I’m shooting photos for a story on shelter animals I may adjust the cage shots to a cooler temperature to make them feel cold and impersonal.  The point is that I am making an artistic decision to make a photo look a certain way rather than just accepting an image the way the camera delivers it to me.  And you can too!

What Beautiful Yellow Skin You Have!

Sometimes color temperature needs to be adjusted to present and accurate image.  Pictures taken indoors, even with flash, often require some color temperature love after the fact.  The photos below of my friends Tori and Josh illustrate the difference between what the camera will do and what an editing adjustment will do.  My, what beautiful jaundiced skin you two have!

color temperature

So when you’re working with your images take a moment to consider the color temperature.  Is white white?  Is the overall look too blue or too orange?  Do you want to warm it up to create a certain mood?  Or cool it down to send a certain message?  Did the gym lights make everyone look a garish orange?  Cool it down with your color temperature slider.  Did the clouds and snow make Fluffy look blue?  Warm Fluffy up with a slide to a warmer temperature!

As always, I’m interested to see your photos, so if you do any work with color temperature please share it with me!

In my next post I’ll talk about a cool, easy way to improve your photos: Cropping and using the Rule of Thirds!


Photo Editing For Amateurs – Part III: Contrast

Contrast is an important aspect of a good photo but it is oft overlooked by amateur photographers.

What is Contrast?

Contrast is a very simple concept.  In non-photographic terms, contrast is defined as “the state of being strikingly different from something else.”  A good example of contrast is how we experience air temperature.  When you step outside your warm house into the cold morning you notice the cold because of the contrast between inside and outside temperatures.  As we spend more time outside we often feel the cold less because there is no contrasting warm temperature to remind us how cold it is.    Visually we are surrounded by examples of contrast everyday.  Neon signs, often hung in dark windows, catch our attention because the light tubes are so much brighter than the dark background.  A stop sign works because there is a significant difference between the white letters and the red background so as to make the white letters easy to read.  Imagine if a stop sign had a dark blue background with purple letters!

How Does Contrast Apply to Photography?

In photography we think of contrast as the difference between the light tones and dark tones in an image.  When we have bright highlights and dark shadows we have a lot of contrast.  A great black & white print with deep blacks and bright whites is an example of high contrast.  When we have a photo that has a lot of tones that are close to each other in brightness we have low contrast.  A picture on a gray, foggy day would have low contrast.

Just like I mentioned in my post on exposure, adjusting contrast in a photo is typically a matter of taste.  How much is too much might be different for you and me.  There are some circumstances where it is generally a good idea to add a little more contrast to an image.  Fall foliage is a terrific example of that.  Increasing the difference between the light and dark tones in the colorful leaves can really make them pop.  As a rule, if you’re photographing your mother I would advise against adding a lot of contrast as it will highlight her crows feet and wrinkles.  You do that at your own risk!

This image of my elephant friend in South Africa illustrates how contrast can affect an image.  The photo on the left is untouched out of the camera.  It looks okay, but it is a little flat and boring.  The middle shot includes an increase in contrast.  Note the additional texture in the skin on the trunk and in the ears.  Unlike mom, this looks good on elephant skin!  And finally, the last image has an a lot of contrast added.  It really brings out the texture on the animal, but look too how it separates the leaves in the trees.  For some people this is too much contrast.  I like it for this picture, but I wouldn’t apply the same treatment too often to too many of my photographs.  If this were a different setting I might think about doing something completely different.  For example, if this were a misty morning scene I wouldn’t want to bring out the skin as much but rather I would be interested in blending the elephant with the mist.  Reducing the contrast in the original photo would be a good way to make that happen.  As always, season to taste.


So next time you’re dabbling with your photos play around with contrast and see how it can enhance your work.  In most photo editing software the basic adjustments are done with a slider so you can see how you are impacting the picture.  Have fun with it!


In my next post I will talk about how color temperature affects our photographs.