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Photo Editing For Amateurs – Part II: Photo Exposure

Proper photo exposure is the most important factor in creating a good image.  Ideally, you capture the right amount of light on your subject when you take the picture.  But let’s face it, sometimes we need a little help after the fact.  And that’s where editing software can some to the rescue.  In my last post I shared a number of very good software options, so if you haven’t selected a program to use take a look at that post.

Good news – obtaining the “right” photo exposure is not an exact science.  Rather, it is subjective and is very much in the eye of the photographer.  What I think looks perfect may be too bright or not bright enough for your tastes, and vice versa.  So what we’re really doing is taking what comes out of your camera and seasoning to taste.  Editing for exposure, then, is just about making sure the areas of your photo that are important to you are presented in the best possible light.  Pun intended.

What Exactly Am I Looking At?

There are three general areas to consider in any photo:

  • Highlights – These are the bright parts of the image.  Typical highlight areas will be things like skies, shiny objects, and white dogs.  If you care about showing your viewer the highlight areas you want to make sure they are not overexposed or “blown out”.
  • Midtones – As the name suggests, these are the middle tones in a picture.  Grass and trees, Caucasian skin, and gray or tan cats will all be midtones.  If your subject falls in the midtone range you want to ensure that the tones are accurate, and not to dark or too light.
  • Shadows – Finally, shadows are the dark parts in your photo.  Shadows on faces, dark clothes, and black dogs will all be considered shadow tones.

Editing for photo exposure is simply a matter of adjusting each of those areas to your satisfaction.

A good first step is to ask yourself “What’s the subject of this picture?”  If it’s a white dog, you’re going to want to show the details in the fur and make sure the pup doesn’t have a nuclear glow.  You’re going to focus on the highlights in that photo, and you’re going to set the exposure to bring out the bright tones.  If you’re working on a shot of a black horse, it’s the opposite.  You want to adjust the exposure so the viewer can see texture and muscle tone in the dark coat.  And so on.  Be clear on what you want to show your viewer and adjust accordingly.

Take a look at the images below to see how this works.  The left image is what came out of the camera.  The photo exposure is pretty good – assuming my subject is the horse.  But what if my subject was the fan in the stall?  The second picture illustrates how I can crank up the exposure, bringing out the detail in the shadows to show the fan.  Because I’m not concerned with the highlights looking good, I don’t concern myself with the ridiculously bright horse.  It’s all about the fan!  Of course, when I took the shot I was seeing the white horse in his stall, and that’s what I wanted to show my viewer.  So when I did my editing I lowered the exposure to bring out the detail in the hair and show a little bit more of the contours in his facial structure.  You’ll note that the fan is no longer visible at all, but I don’t care about that.

photo exposure

Obviously, this is an exaggeration, but I hope it helps demonstrate the idea of adjusting an image to your taste.

How Do I Do It?

How you actually make the adjustments varies from software to software, but almost all programs use some sort of slider.  I use Adobe’s Lightroom, and exposure control is done by moving the slider to the left to make the image darker and the right to make it lighter.  The nice thing about a slider is you can use your mouse to make smooth adjustments and watch them take effect on the photo on your screen.  A little left, a little right…boom, that’s perfect!

photo exposure

The Exposure slider in Lightroom.

There are many adjustments you can make to your pictures if you like, but photo exposure is the foundation on which everything else rests.  Get that right and you can take an average photo and make it better.

In my next post in this series I will discuss how to use your photo editing software to adjust contrast.

Photo Editing for Amateurs – Part I: Software

Photo editing – improving images after they come out of the camera – can be a daunting proposition for new and amateur photographers.  Digital cameras make great pictures and have incredible capabilities.  Whether high-end DSLR or point-and-shoot or even on a phone, cameras can do things that just a decade ago we only dreamed possible.  So why would you bother doing anything with the pictures after the fact?  In many cases you probably won’t.  If you’re just grabbing shots of a group of friends at a party or your dog drooling over a treat there’s no need to take the time to try to turn those images into masterpieces.  They captured a moment in time and that’s good enough.  But what about special pictures – the beautiful portrait of your child or the gorgeous sunrise you caught on your beach vacation?  Or, if you run a business, pictures of your people or products that will excite your customers?  With a few minor tweaks you can take those photographs from good to great.

photo editing

Where Do You Start?  Find Your Favorite Photo Editing Software!

Traditionally, if you wanted to get into the “digital darkroom” the gateway was Adobe’s Photoshop.  While it’s an amazing beast, learning to edit photos in Photoshop is like learning to drive in a Formula 1 car.  It can be a little overwhelming to say the least.  And most people don’t need the power and full array of tools that Photoshop has to offer.  Fortunately, now there is an abundance of lower-priced and easier-to-use editing programs that are available.  Many of these apps also serve as image organizers as well, which is a critical function when you’re shooting a lot of pics.  All of the titles listed below offer the basic tools you need and range in price from FREE to around $120 for an annual subscription.

Apple iPhoto and Windows Photo Gallery: iPhoto (for Mac) and Windows Photo Gallery (for PC) are FREE apps that do both image cataloging and editing.  Both programs are easy to learn and offer all of the important adjustments like exposure, contrast, color and cropping.  If your photo editing needs are limited to the basics, these programs will deliver outstanding results.

Google’s Picasa 3.9:  Picasa has had a great reputation since it came on the scene.  It is easy to learn and use and has a lot of great editing features.  Picasa also does a good job of organizing images and makes it easy to share your work via Picassa Web Albums.  You can download Picassa for FREE.

Photoshop Elements 13: When digital photography became mainstream Adobe recognized the need for a “baby” version of Photoshop, and so they launched Photoshop Elements.  The $79 program has all the critical basic adjustments of the mother program as well as a lot of advanced capabilities like adding text, converting photos to B&W, etc.  You may have to log some time in front of your screen learning what it can do, but once you’re familiar with Elements you won’t be disappointed.  One down side: it does not have a cataloging function so you’ll need a separate image organizer.  I used Elements before I graduated to Photoshop and I highly recommend it.

photo editing PicMonkeyPicMonkey: PicMonkey burst on the scene a few years ago and has become very popular.  The app is browser-based, which means you don’t need to download or install anything to your computer.  Basic functions of PicMonkey, like exposure, cropping, and color adjustment are FREE.  PicMonkey has a lot of easy-to-use features and filters, and its functionality has earned it a lot of kudos.  The advanced features costs a little bit, but with an annual payment plan it’s only $2.75/month for some great software.  Here again, the service doesn’t include a library component.  But with a simple interface and great functionality PicMonkey is the ideal program for many photogs.

photo editingAdobe Lightroom: In the beginning of the change from film to digital photography there was a lot of focus on image editing.  Then, as more photographers created more photos, software was introduced to organized all those images.  The problem was you had to use two different programs in your workflow – one to catalog your collection and then a separate program to adjust each image.  A while back Adobe introduced Lightroom to merge those jobs, and it has become the gold standard for pro photographers.  Lightroom has a robust cataloging feature that makes it easy to find that photo of a needle in a haystack of digital files.  And Lightroom offers the ability to easily make adjustments to your images right in the catalog.  Certainly, Lightroom is more than many casual photographers need, but for anyone who shoots more than a few hundred images in a year this is a great solution.  The app is available via Adobe’s Creative Cloud which ensures constant updates and upgrades and costs $9.99/month.  I use Lightroom daily and don’t know what I would do without it!!

To be sure, this is not an exhaustive list – there are a lot of other options available that do a great job.  The programs listed above represent those with which I am most familiar.  Other apps you may want to check out include GIMP and Corel Paint Shop Pro.  A quick search of the web will yield a number of additional options.

So Now What Do I Now?

In my next post in this series I will discuss how to use your photo editing software to adjust exposure.  You can read that here.

Why Does Professional Photography Cost So Much?

I get it.  Professional photography can seem expensive.  My standard session fee is $350 to $500, and the prints I offer range from $15 for a small one to several hundred dollars for a big canvas.  Regularly I hear from potential clients who express their appreciation for my work and their desire to hire me to photograph their family or pets.  When I respond I explain how I work and the various session options and the cost to hire me.  Much of the time potential clients become actual clients, and often repeat clients.  But several times a year the conversation ends when we get to pricing.  Sometimes people just don’t reply.  Occasionally, though, someone will let me know what they’re thinking.  “That much?  Really?  I only want an 8×10 to put on the wall.”  Or “Why is it so much?  My friend has a digital camera and can do it for free.”  Reactions like that used to baffle me, even make me angry.  But when I look at things from a non-photographers point of view I understand completely how professional photography pricing could boggle the mind.  If your mind is boggled, I offer the following information for your consideration.

When You Buy Professional Photography You Are Buying My Expertise

professional photographyThat may sound like I’m stating the obvious, but I think sometimes it may not be so obvious.  I didn’t just pick up a camera and hang my shingle last week.  I have been taking pictures for decades.  I have attended countless workshops and training programs led by some of the best photographers in the world including Joe McNally, Tom Bol, and Allison Langley.  I graduated from the New York Institute of Photography.  I have dedicated innumerable hours to master Photoshop and other software.  I have taken hundreds of thousands photographs to hone my skills.  Though many people can grab a nice photograph with their camera on Program mode, training and experience provides the me with the ability to produce strong images all the time.  Predictably.  Sunny day or cloudy day; inside or outdoors; calm subject or frenetic model; I am ready to deliver the terrific images you were hoping for.  So while your next door neighbor might have a DSLR camera and be willing to shoot for free, he or she likely won’t bring that level expertise required to create great photographs like I can.  We all know someone who tinkers with car engines, but when your Check Engine light goes on I suspect you go to a garage with experienced mechanics.  When you’re capturing memories of your family or pets you deserve that same level of experience and expertise.

When You Buy Professional Photography You Are Renting My Equipment

There’s a decades-old debate in photography circles that pits the gear versus the photographer.  Older, crustier photographers can be heard stating that they can take a better picture with an iPhone than a newbie could with a $40,000 Hasselblad.  Maybe.  But I guarantee that old crusty photog can take a better picture with that Hasselblad than he could with the iPhone.  A Ferrari will outperform a Smartcar every day of the week.  And a Ferrari with Mario Andretti behind the wheel will outperform a Ferrari driven by me every day of the week.  Good tools make a difference.  And professional photographers invest in good tools because their livelihoods depend on it.  My basic camera-lens setup costs just under $4,000.  On a typical shoot my camera bag holds nearly $8,000 in gear.  And that doesn’t include the $2,000- $3,000 in lighting equipment I bring along some days.  The software programs I use cost several hundred dollars, and the computer and storage drives even more.  The photographs I make are crisp and exposed properly and lit well and printed perfectly thanks to the excellent tools I employ.  When you buy professional photography you reap the benefits of those excellent tools.

When You Buy Professional Photography You Are Buying My Time

professional photographyThe costs associated with photography used to be a little more transparent than they are now.  In the days when we used film it was understood that the rolls had to be processed and prints made before even seeing what the photographs look like.  Now we can look at the back of a digital camera seconds after taking a picture and see the composition, exposure, etc.  It might be easy to deduce that once an image is captured it comes out of the camera in perfect, print-ready form.  Not so.  On an average two-hour shoot I will capture at least 75-100 images.  When I sit down in front of my computer it will take me 10 minutes or so to upload the files from my card, and then another 30 minutes or so to quickly run through the full collection to cull out the shots that I don’t like because the expression is off, exposure isn’t great or some other reason.  I’ll spend another 15 to 20 minutes selecting the best of those photos that will comprise the final collection, usually 25 or 30.  Then I’ll dedicate a couple of minutes on each individual shot tweaking exposure, contrast, color temperature, and other critical aspects that can make a strong image even stronger.   When a client orders a print I devote even more time to the file making sure every single detail is covered – I remove blemishes from faces, spots from clothing, pet hair from the ground or furniture, and so on.  The post-session work “developing” the photos can add up to a lot of time.  But that time and attention to detail that you’re investing in means the difference between a nice picture and a great photograph.

 When You Buy Professional Photography You Are Buying My Professionalism

When you hire me you benefit from my years of experience in business.  You can expect to receive the same level of professionalism and courtesy you would from your accountant or banker.  I’m going to show up on time, dressed appropriately, ready to work hard for you.  You will have my undivided attention – I won’t be checking Facebook or on my phone making weekend plans.  I’m going to charge you what I said I would.  And if there’s a problem anywhere along the way I am going to work with you to remedy that.

Yes, professional photography can appear to be expensive.  But when you peel back the curtain and look at what goes into it you see that the investment you make ensures that you receive great images created by a professional business person using the best equipment.  And in the years to come as you look at the photographs that captured once-on-a-lifetime moments you’ll be glad you made that investment.

dog rescue

Dog Rescue Photography – Cagney and Lacey

It thrills me to be able to use my photographic skills to help dog rescues.  This morning I was introduced to Cagney and Lacey.  Lacey is believed to be the mom of Cagney, who is just six or seven months old.  These two sweet girls were found wandering the tracks of the Long Island Railroad and were taken in by a Connecticut dog rescue group.  Now they are safe and warm thanks to the generous folks at Davis Animal Hospital.  But they need their forever homes.  Both of these girls are beautiful, fun, sweet, gentle dogs who will make great pets.  Ideally they are adopted together, but separating them is an option as well.  For more information or to make arrangements to meet Cagney and Lacey send an email to  And please share them with everyone you know!


horse show photogaphy

Horse Show Photography at Forest Edge Farm

I love doing horse show photography.  Partly because, like any sports photography subject, it can be challenging to nail the timing and the lighting and the angles to make a good image.  But mostly because I have so much admiration for the athletes, human and horse, who deliver incredible performances together.  On Sunday I had the opportunity to photograph riders at the Fall Show at Forest Edge Farm in Little Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey.  It was a beautiful fall day, which made for some great light and backgrounds.  And the riders and horses worked hard and performed well.

horse show photogaphyOne of the highlights of the event – of all horse show photography – for me was watching the perseverance and grit of the riders.  On example that stayed with me was a young woman who took a head-over-heels tumble off of her horse when the horse stopped at a fence.  The crash was dramatic, and there was a collective gasp from the audience as we watched.  The young rider stood up, collected herself, gave her horse a few minutes to relax, and then jumped back in the saddle and rode the last three fences of her round perfectly!  I was so impressed with her fortitude.

I left with a memory card full of photos, a few of which are below.  Click on a thumbnail to see a larger gallery.

*Looking for the full gallery of over 200 images?  Click here!*


Cat Rescue Photography at PAWS

After doing my first dog rescue photo shoot in a while yesterday, today the trend continued as I did a cat rescue photography session at PAWS (Pet Animal Welfare Society) in Norwalk, Connecticut.  PAWS is a terrific private no-kill shelter that houses around 20 dogs and over 100 cats, most of whom are available for adoption.  Today I spent time in one of the cat rooms and met 25 “models” who were kind enough to mug for the camera.  For more information about any of these cats – or about Hansel and Gretel, the cute brother and sister kitten team – visit or call 203-750-0572.

rescue dog photography

Rescue Dog Photography – Bruno

Rescue dog photography is one of my most favorite ways to use my talent.  For years in New Jersey I would spend three or four hours each week taking pictures of dogs in the local shelters, and often those photos helped the dogs get some well-needed attention and a new home.   When I moved to Connecticut one of the things I missed the most was doing rescue dog photography.  Now that I’m a little more organized I’m diving back in to the work, and today was my first session.  I was fortunate to meet Bruno, a sweet, fun, loving 18 month old lad who will make a great pet for the right home.  Bruno is as kind as he looks, is well-behaved, likes other dogs, and will do best with humans who will let him know who’s boss.  He won me over right away, and I know he is going to make his new family very, very happy.

Click on a thumbnail below to see larger images.  If you’d like more information about Bruno you can email  And don’t forget to spread the word and help this dude find his forever home!

horse photography

Horse Photography in Moody Middleburg

I spent the weekend doing some horse photography in Middleburg, Virginia.   My wife was riding in the Middleburg Classic Horse Show and I made the trip down to watch her compete.  It was a beautiful weekend for a horse show, and also for making pictures.  Both mornings a thick fog covered the rolling hills of northern Virginia and created a moody, sometimes surreal feel to the place.  By mid-morning the sun cooked off the mist and the autumn light was ideal for show horse photography.  I couldn’t have ordered better light!  Click on one of the thumbnails below to see some of the results.

dog portrait

Photography Workshop – “Take Better Photos of Your Pet”

EarsAre you an amateur photographer who would like to take better pictures?  Do you catch  your pet in a certain pose or place and think “Wow, that would be a great photo!”?  Have you seen images of animals and wished you could make similar photos?  If you answered “Yes!” to one or more of these questions then this photography workshop is for YOU!

I am excited to collaborate with my friends at Salt Studios, LLC to present “Take Better Photos of Your Pet”.  Located in Asbury Park, New Jersey, Salt Studios is Monmouth County’s premier boutique photography studio and its artists produce outstanding portrait and commercial photography.  Check them out at

This three-hour photography workshop is oriented to beginner and intermediate amateur photographers who desire to understand more about photography to use their skills to improve their ability to make strong images of their pet.  Included in the workshop:

~Photography 101 Review: Aperture, Shutter speed, ISO and how they work together.
~Light and how its quantity, quality and direction affect your photos.
~Specific Tips for Making Great Pet Photos.

The highlight of the session will be a live model shoot using several animals to provide participants with the opportunity to try their hand at using their new skills.  Pro photographer David Dodds and I will be on hand to offer guidance and encouragement.  Live shoots will include natural and artificial (flash) light settings.  Because we are limiting enrollment to no more than 15 people everyone will have a terrific opportunity to practice and receive support from the instructors.

Questions?  Contact me at 732-889-6769 or

This will be a GREAT opportunity to improve your photography, shoot in an incredible studio and have a lot of fun.  We hope to see you there!!!


Date: Saturday, October 25
Time: 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Cost: $75/person
Enrollment: 15 person maximum
Registration: To make your reservation contact Michael Bagley Photography by phone at 732-889-6769 or email at  Payment in full is due upon registration via check or credit card.  Unfortunately, we will not be able to refund registration if your plans change.
What to Bring: Your camera, your questions, and a positive attitude!


people portraits

People Portraits – Henry

My goal in creating people portraits is to capture the personality of my subject.  Henry’s wonderful smile is exceeded only by his beautiful spirit.  Most of these pictures were taken before he realized I was there, and it’s easy to see what a nice child he is.  Once he noticed the camera he really began to “work it”.  These are some of my favorite portraits I’ve ever made.  Thanks Henry!

Click on a portrait below to see a larger image.  To see more of my portraits visit my People Portraits page.