To UV or not to UV

Here's a question I get quite frequently: do you really need a UV filter?

I usually respond that "it depends," and then go on to explain why you don't need one. Shutterbug magazine doesn't waffle at all.

Here's the full question they received:

Does a UV filter degrade the quality of digital images? I have a UV haze filter on all my lenses, primarily to protect the lens. However, my daughter brought to my attention that “there is controversy that the extra piece of glass degrades the picture slightly by reducing contrast.” Is that true? Should I remove the filters, or not worry about it? Frankly, the filter has saved my lenses more than once.

— Ralph Selitzer

Read their answer

How to find interesting pictures when you’re overwhelmed

Julie paused in front of the Maga Design building and stared. She never raised her camera. Didn’t move around. Just stared.

On our Abstracts in Adams Morgan Photo Tour, most photographers stop in front this building. There is something that seems to draw most people in, but what attracts them differs with each person.

“What are you looking at,” I inquired?

“I’m not sure,” she said. “I can’t decide what I want to shoot here.”

I know the feeling. Sometimes it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You walk down an interesting street with your camera, and everything seems to clamor for your attention at once. 

Under the overwhelm, it’s easy to feel like shutting down. Like Julie, we stand there, stare and do nothing.

The next time you feel overwhelmed, try one of these approaches.


What’s the first thing you noticed?

“Stop for a moment and think. When you first decided to walk over here, what was the first thing you noticed?”

“I noticed the pattern in the balconies,” Julie said.

“Good, start there. Focus on the patterns and see what you can create.

In many instances, whenever you are drawn to a scene, there is something -- one thing -- there that grabbed your eye. If you take a moment to reflect, you are likely to pick it out. Start with it. That might be a satisfying way to begin.


Choose a theme

An easy way to avoid overwhelm is to decide on your theme or story first. Before you even head out to shoot, know what you plan to photograph. You can choose to focus on a color, texture, storyline, or anything. When you happen upon a scene with too many options, you can use your theme to determine where you start.


Sit still and wait

Sometimes our enemy is impatience. Maybe even a little creative ADD. 

In instances when there is too much going on, just sit still and wait. Patience can produce something interesting. In our webinar with Hannele Lahti, she shared that sometimes she will sit in one location for hours waiting for something interesting to happen. When it does, it is usually worth the wait.

If you have the time, pull up a chair and relax.


In the end, Julie decided to focus on the balconies and created some interesting images with the patterns. Overwhelm averted.

Can you make a living as a concert photographer?

Can you make a living as a concert photographer? That's the question asked by Target Audience Magazine.

If you aspire to break into concert photography, check out the article for a few nuggets of wisdom.

Spoiler alert: You might be able to make money, but a living? Not with all those Instagrammers in the audience.


Check out some words of wisdom from an Atlanta concert promoter.

Read the full article on Target Audience Magazine.


Click to read the article.

DCW's 12 key camera settings

Right after unboxing your DSLR, you notice more buttons than you know what to do with.

Here's the good news, you only need to set about 12 of them before you start shooting. Even better news, Digital Camera World has listed all 12 for you.

Use this article as a blueprint to get your initial settings right, then go explore. By the way, DCW's advice is a good companion to my 8 things you should learn about your camera over the holidays.

Enjoy the new gear!

Time to answer the two questions

Last spring I told you that when winter started I'd ask you two questions

I warned you then, so you would have time to prepare your answers. It gave me the same opportunity. Here it is...the start of winter and time for us to do some reflection.


'to face unafraid the plans that we made...'

I almost didn't write this post for us. What if you hadn't really made a plan? What if you made one and didn't complete it as well as you'd hoped? You wouldn't want to look back, right? Who wants to face that kind of reminder of your goals unfulfilled?

Stuck in the middle of the Christmas song "Winter Wonderland" is a throwaway line.

I've heard the song millions of times, but I had never noticed that line before this year:

Later on

we'll conspire

As we dream by the fire

To face unafraid

The plans that we made

Walking in a winter wonderland


There were a couple timely messages. Winter is a good time to dream.  Don't be afraid to face your plans.

Let's do both.


Here was the first question: What did you learn?

"Can you look back on our warm months with satisfaction? What did you learn? How have you improved? The opportunity to shoot more also offers the opportunity to learn more."

In addition to shooting, I've been learning how to publish books. Next year, I'd like to complete an ebook that I sell on Amazon. I've spent the last several months reading and studying best practices and strategies for that. I'm thinking some of these colder months will be spent writing.

What about you? What did you learn this year that helps you reach one of your goals?


Here is the second question: What did you create?

"This is another way to enjoy a sense of accomplishment. Deliberate learning is fine, but think how wonderful you will feel when you look back at something you have created.

It might be a photo project, a coffee table book, or a new blog. You might use your talents to help your favorite cause. It really doesn’t matter what you choose. Creating something is useful because it will help motivate you to keep shooting. It will give you the opportunity to improve. Creating something significant will fill a larger need that we photographers have. Think about it."

Did you create anything? Are you incubating your idea? Are you executing it now? Maybe you just created a photo you love. Maybe your Project 365 or 52 is your source of accomplishment. Maybe you are still searching for the right project.

I look back with satisfaction at many of our Free Photo Webinars. We tackled more topics than I anticipated. Photography in crisis situations, Developing your photo style, and Creating Black & White photography are just a few of my favorites. It even inspired me to use that format to deliver my signature photo tour. In 10 Steps to Great Pictures, I've taken the class I teach around the monuments and turned it into a video training series. It's yet another learning resource for you. I felt good completing it.


But what if you don't like your answers

Let's face it, we all have a few To Do's left undone this time of the year. It happens. If you are unsatisfied with the way you answered the two questions, here is the amazing part. You get to try again. You get to decide what you want to create, and what you will learn to help ensure your success.

Think about it. 

Congratulations on all you accomplished this year. I'm looking forward to doing great things with you next year.

P.S. By the way, if you need a little help, download my Planning for Greatness guide. It walks you through the questions you need to answer to define and reach your dream.

Check out Photofocus' HDR Learning Center

If you are curious about HDR photography, the Photofocus blog has a cool HDR Learning Center

Photofocus is a great resource for all things photography. They post every day and have a helpful podcast that broadcasts about three times a month.

On their HDR Learning Center, you can find an HDR primer, a free download of HDR software Photomatix, and a long list of HDR posts.

While you are in the mood, check out our Free Photo Webinar with Angela Pan.

The fun holiday lights - at the zoo

"It's a zoo in there!" I heard someone say as he was leaving the National Zoo Saturday night. It had to be the best line I'd heard that evening.

That's because he wasn't talking about the animals. He was referring to the crowds that came out Saturday night, enticed by unseasonably warm weather.

By Sunday night, things had returned to normal levels, so I could create a few of the fun shots we shoot on the Zoo Lights Photo Tour. I'm expecting more great photo ops this coming weekend.

3 questions to point you in the right direction

Dr. Phil wasn't talking specifically to photographers when he shared his self test.

His 3 questions to point you in the right direction was designed to help you get your life on track.

Flickr photo by LEOL30.

I think as creatives we can take the questions and use them for our own purposes, however.

Maybe you need to get your creativity back. Maybe you need to find purpose in your photography or art. Maybe you are building a business or preparing for some other challenge.

Dr. Phil's three questions are a simple but useful roadmap.

Read more

Mostly Lisa's Project 365 ideas

Let's say you decide to take on the picture-a-day challenge in 2014. At some point, you might find yourself scratching your head wondering what to photograph next. The daily deadline comes faster than you think.

Lisa Bettany offers up 16 ideas to keep you shooting. How about making them weekly themes? That might stretch it out even more. Read Lisa's tips.

By the way, if you venture out on a Project 365, share them with us in our Photo Projects Google + Community. We're there to support and encourage you. 

Plain Vanilla Mom offers holiday lights backdrop tutorial

Let all the others take photographs of their lights. With this tutorial, you can turn your holiday lights into a backdrop. Now that's cool.

Plain Vanilla Mom (what a fun name) lays out the steps to creating a portrait like this one. Other moms, pet owners, or anyone wanting to be creative can follow her easy steps. 

Check out the tutorial here.

While you are at it, don't miss this cool DPS holiday lights post she found.

Exposed DC spotlights Claude Taylor's gallery

If you have even a remote interest in travel photography, you really should schedule a trip to Claude Taylor's gallery in Washington, DC's Dupont Circle.

That's what Exposed DC did and scored this cool interview. I've always wondered what Claude's story was, but my attempts to stroll in and strike up conversation got me nowhere. Clearly the folks at ExposedDC have better social skills than I do. :-)

In the article, Claude shares how his gallery got started and how he happened upon photos from so many destinations around the globe. We even get a peak at his sense of humor.

You can see his humor on display right outside the gallery. He usually has a sign that says "Help Claude restore his 1970 Mustang," urging you to buy a photo.

Check out the story and, if you can, the gallery. That poor Mustang isn't gonna restore itself, you know.

Apple showcases the impact of photography

Apple really knows how to tug at the heart strings. Just when I was getting used to the noise and clamor of the other smart phone ads, Apple drops this gem called Happy Holidays.

It features a teenage boy, constantly clutching his iPhone during his family's holiday activities. I won't give away the ending, but it resonated with me. 

Photography isn't just a gift, it can be your gift. Something to think about during the holiday season.



Just for good measure, Apple released the full version of his video. ;-)

Project 365 begins - early

Time for me to stop being a hypocrite. There, I said it.

I was chatting with a client recently about starting a Project 365. 

"If you do something once a week, at the end of the month you have four opportunities to improve. If you do it once a day, at the end of the month, you have 30 opportunities to improve," I said.

It sounded good in my head until I confronted myself with the same truth. I've been blogging once a week, and I'm really enjoying creating fun and helpful posts. But at the end of the month, I have only created four. 

That's not such a bad thing, except, I'd really like to grow this blog into a more robust resource for all things photography. That means I have to produce more.


Project 365 is my challenge

Every day, I'll post something encouraging or helpful. This will mostly be resources or ideas I find around the web and throughout my travels. It is curation. I'll still create my weekly helpful posts on the main blog

Stop in anytime for resources to help you improve your photography or suggestions on fun things to photograph. I'll have a daily dish of ideas.

By the way, Project 365 officially begins on Jan. 1, 2014. I just got a little excited and started my posts today. I continue every day going forward. Root for me!

Webinar Recording: Creating black and white photography

How do you create great images in black and white? That’s the topic we tackled during our December 2013 Free Photo Webinar. In this presentation and discussion, you will learn:

  • Why shoot in black and white?
  • What principles should you follow for all your black and white photos?
  • What elements really make a black and white photo stand out?
  • We compare several photos in color & black and white and talk about the differences.
  • What should you know to convert your photos from color to black and white successfully?

Plus...we had a pretty good discussion about resources, gear, and shooting.


More resources

Credits - See the Flickr Creative Commons photos used in Black & White webinar gallery and Black and White webinar gallery 2.

In our Q&A section, someone asked about learning resources for strobe photography. I suggested:

...and I’m adding

Joe McNally's The Language of Light DVD

I also mentioned the ExpoDisc as a great tool for accurate white balance.

The stories of Humans of New York now in print

My mouth almost hit the floor when I saw the Humans of New York book on the cover of USA Today.

You might remember that Brandon Stanton, the blogger who is taking a photo census of the Big Apple was a guest on our Free Photo Webinar a couple years ago.

Since then he has continued capturing tons of stories of humans across New York. Along the way, he’s attracted more than a million followers to his blog and now he has released hard cover book for sale.

USA Today included Humans of New York on their holiday gift guide, and I am adding it to mine as well. 

I’m not surprised to see that it rocketed to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list. He’s an amazing photographer and storyteller.

I love to see success happen to good people.

Here is Brandon on our webinar.

He also inspired me to write this post: Better street portraits: What I learned from Humans of New York.

Pick up the book on Amazon.

Creating photos in black and white

Flickr photo by misschristi1972. (Converted to black & white.)

What makes a box of crayons interesting? As I remember it, we judged Crayolas based on the numbers of colors. Whether your box had 8, 16, 32, or 64 crayons, we learned that with more options, we could create more nuance and impact in our drawings.

What if that same crayon box came with only shades of gray? How much fun would that be?

We might not be able to imagine enjoying monochrome crayons but stripping color from your pictures could add a whole new layer of impact to your photography.


A great black and white photo is first a great photo

Back when I learned to take pictures, we only used one kind of film -- black and white. My instructors taught us about all the principles of photography and gave assignments to help us understand the lessons better. Here’s what they never did -- taught us to see in black and white.

You know why? Many of the elements that make a strong black & white photo are the same principles that work in any photo -- color or not. Here are questions I ask when evaluating any photo.

Exposure -- Is the photograph exposed correctly? Is the subject well lit? Is there the proper amount of light to create the mood or tell the story? Are there any blown highlights or overexposed areas that are distracting? Are the darker or shadow areas so muddy that you lose detail?

Composition -- Is there a clear and compelling subject? Does everything else in the frame work to complement or lead the eye to the subject? Does the action lead my eye on a clear path around the photo? Are there any distracting elements in the photo?

Focus -- Is the subject or main part of the image sharply in focus? Is enough of the subject in focus? Is too much in focus? Is the image free of camera shake?

Impact -- Does it pass the ‘so what’ test? Is it clear what compelled you to take this photo, to save it, to share it? Is there a story?

Emotion -- What do I feel when I look at your photo? What are the subjects of your photo feeling? Can I sympathize? Empathize? What’s my reaction?

In any photograph -- black and white or color, you have to start with the basics.


What is unique to a black and white image?

When you strip away color from a photograph, the other characteristics become more noticeable. You might find yourself focusing on elements that might have been obscured by the splashes of red or green.

If you know these elements stand out, use them to create stronger images.

  • Shapes & Patterns -- Lines, shapes and patterns are a staple of great composition. Without the distractions of color, the geometry often becomes more prominent. In the black & white photo of the crayons, you might notice the repeating pattern. Would you have noticed it in color? Perhaps, but only after you took notice of each color. In monochrome, the pattern takes center stage. Find the shapes and patters.
  • Texture -- I wonder what that subject feels like? Does the photo make it easy for me to imagine? In a black and white photo, texture can become easier to visualize. Look for opportunities to show us how something feels.
  • Light & Shadows -- You usually find more impact focusing on the light or shadows of a scene in black and white photography. Your camera is designed to give you an average of the entire scene in its default mode. In black and white, you can create more impact by making either the light or shadow more prominent. Using spot metering can help.
  • Tonal Contrast -- The range of light to dark in an image is often called the tonal range. Without color, you can choose to use a more graduated range, with lots of gray tones in between. For more drama, you can also go for a stark difference between blacks and white. 


The why factor

One of the most important questions you can ask yourself is ‘why?’ Why is this photo in black and white? Is it important to the message? Was a color too distracting? Does it enhance the mood? Create an effect? Tell a story? Why are you doing this?

Some images need to be in black and white. Sometimes you choose it to mask technical flaws. Sometimes you just feel it makes the image right. Trust your artistic instinct for this one. Just be deliberate and intentional about your choices.

Once you’ve decided how to best express your vision, dip into your crayon box and pick your best gray. Color away.


Learn more about Creating Black & White photography in our Free Photo Webinar

Want to learn more about creating in black and white? Join my December 10, 2013 Free Photo Webinar. We’ll dig deeper into what makes a great black and white photo. We’ll look at some examples of how we use each of the principles above. We’ll talk about the best ways to convert a color image and the benefits of shooting straight to black and white. I’ll even have some resources to help you continue your learning path.

Register now to join us.

2013 Photo Gear Gift Guide

What do you get the photographer who seems to have everything? Here are 10 suggestions of accessories every photographer oughta own. You should be able to find a gift for every budget, as these suggestions range from $10 to $400ish.


Buying a DSLR?

If you are thinking of buying a DSLR camera, consider my recommendations for the Nikon photographer or Canon photographer. I have kit selections for the beginner, enthusiast, or pro.


Give a gift they can experience

Give the perfect gift to the photographer in your life. Purchase PhotoTour DC gift certificates in $25 increments, good toward any PhotoTour DC excursion or private coaching.