David Peterson

David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.

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Filed in Great Photos, Tips by on March 9, 2017 8 Comments

If you live in the Western world, you’ve almost certainly had significant exposure to the idea that “more is better.” You see this it pretty much everywhere you go—people buy bigger houses when they don’t really need them, the portion sizes at restaurants are enough to feed a family of six from a single plate, and the drive to accumulate—whether it’s more pieces for your wardrobe, more rare collectibles, or simply more things than your neighbor has—seems to be ingrained in our popular culture. So it’s not surprising that when you first start to take photographs, you may approach them with the idea that “more is better.”
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How to Photograph Family Drama

Filed in Tips by on March 9, 2017 2 Comments
How to Photograph Family Drama

If the family photo album really was a way to accurately gauge the perfection of the modern family, then modern families all over the world must be perfect indeed. Photo albums are full of smiling, well-behaved children, parents who never lose their cool and family vacations that always go exactly as planned. And that’s not because all other families really are (more) perfect (than yours), it’s because most people only photograph the good, and they avoid the bad like the proverbial plague.

Happy moments go in the photo album, and unhappy moments? Well, let’s just pretend that never happened. Should this be your approach to family photography? Read on to find out the answer. Continue Reading »

Photo challenge: Photographing Opposites

Filed in Great Photos, Tips by on March 9, 2017 0 Comments
Photo challenge: Photographing Opposites

I’m sure you have heard the expression “opposites attract.” It’s a bit of a cliché, to be sure, but clichés often exist because there is some element of truth to them. And while it may not be completely accurate that everyone is attracted to his or her opposite, what is true is that people are attracted to visual representations of opposites. If you’re stuck in a photographic rut, try this challenge: look for pairs of opposite subjects and try to capture them in a compelling way. Keep reading for some ideas.

##The appeal of opposites

We like to look at photographs of opposites because they are objects that we don’t expect to see together. Opposites give us visual contrast, and when two objects contrast in a big way, they give your viewer something to think about. Let’s take a look at one example:


In this image we have two dogs, which it’s hard to argue seem to be complete opposites. One of these dogs is big, and the second is small. Because of this contrast in size we immediately make assumptions about the other differences between these dogs. Some viewers might think the small dog seems vulnerable next to the large dog. Another viewer might interpret the interaction between the two dogs as being almost brotherly—the little dog is looking up at the larger dog with an expression that could be interpreted as something like admiration.

When we see two opposites together, we can’t help but imagine what might happen next. For example, what is stopping the giant dog from having the smaller dog for breakfast? Because that small dog seems vulnerable, we start to worry a little bit about him. And anytime a photograph can inspire that kind of emotion in a viewer, it’s going to be a lot more compelling than, say, a photograph of either one of these dogs sitting alone.

##How to find opposites

Just about everywhere we look in nature there are opposites, or at the very least things that can be represented as opposites. For example, you could say that a desert and a rain forest are opposite, although, it would be a difficult to capture both of those things together in a single photograph. However, with a little creative thinking, you could suggest the idea of dry vs. wet or even rainforest vs. desert by juxtaposing two representative objects together. For example, a few green leaves placed on dry, cracked earth could make a statement about the challenges of life in dry conditions. And if you want to be a little more adventurous, you could search for bodies of water in dry places—rivers do cut through deserts, and a photo of running water traveling through an unlikely place will give your photo some pretty compelling contrast.


Opposites can be human beings as well — try photographing a dirty child next to a well groomed child with perfect hair. Or photograph twin toddlers, one crying and the other smiling (just wait a few minutes, one of them will almost certainly find something worth screaming about). Then ask your viewer to speculate on how well he thinks those two children get along. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if the answer is correct—those two twins might get along famously in the real world—the important thing is to capture the two children in such a way that inspires your viewer’s imagination, regardless of how accurate his conclusions may be.


If you need a simpler approach, think in terms of colors. At some point in your artistic career, you’ve probably encountered a color wheel:

The color wheel is a simple tool that can help you understand the relationship between colors, but it can also be used to help you create photographic opposites. Colors that appear opposite one another on the color wheel are called “complementary colors,” but you can also think of them as literal opposites. The opposite of blue is orange, the opposite of a green is a red, and the opposite of purple is yellow. When you place two opposite colors into a photograph, you get a very striking contrast between those colors. That helps draw your viewer’s attention into the scene, and creates a very appealing composition.

Blue and Orange

Now what about objects that don’t really have opposites? If you have kids, you know that they tend to be fascinated by the idea of opposites, and convinced that every object must have one. “What’s the opposite of yarn?” you’ve probably been asked. Or, “What’s the opposite of shoe?” Now clearly there is no literal answer to either of those questions, at least not in the same sense as we know for certain that the opposite of cold is hot, or the opposite of dirty is clean. But we can think about ways to juxtapose two objects that seem to contradict one another. For example, we could include a finished, knitted blanket in a photograph with a ball of yarn as a way of contrasting the two—one the raw material, and the other the finished product. We could juxtapose a high heel shoe next to a sneaker. Neither of these pairs of objects are necessarily opposites, but they do create a dichotomy or a strong contrast.


##Your project plan

Now if this is the sort of project idea that appeals to you, you could just set out one morning with a goal of wandering around until you blunder into some good sets of opposites or contrasting objects. However, I rarely recommend this approach because it tends to not be as fruitful as an approach where you have a solid plan. Now you don’t have to type out a detailed outline or anything, but at the very least you should think about some of the opposite pairs you might want to photograph so that you’ll have a game plan when you leave the house. Make a list of potential subjects—black and white, for example, old and young, wet and dry.


And remember to think outside the box of strict opposites—you can also think about ideas or concepts you might want to communicate to your viewer, and find contrasting subjects that convey those concepts. For example, let’s say that you want to communicate your thoughts on climate change—you could contrast dying trees with a gas-powered vehicle such as a large pickup truck.

Think about places around your community where you might see strong contrast. In some towns, there is a clear separation between the poorer communities and the wealthier ones—is there a place where the contrast is obvious, such as a low-income apartment block across the street from a suburban neighborhood? What about the place where the city meets the country—is there a line between civilization and nature? This is going to require some brainstorming, so it’s worth some thought and planning.

Finally, try thinking in technical terms—what are some of the things you typically keep in mind when trying to capture a photograph, such as light and shutter speed? What if you lit your subject with a single, bright light on one side of his face, and let the other side fall into shadow? That might make a strong statement about the two contrasting parts of his personality, his “Jekyll and Hyde.” Or you could use motion blur to create contrast. Put your camera on a tripod, then have two human subjects stand side by side. Select a slow shutter speed and ask one subject to stand as still as possible, and ask the other subject to walk out of the frame during the exposure. You’ll get motion blur on one subject and (hopefully) a sharp image of the other subject, which will amount to a photograph of opposites—moving and standing, or restless and restful.


This can be a really fun project but again, it requires some contemplation and certainly some experimentation. Start with a simple photo of opposites, like in the first example above of the two contrasting colored chess pieces. Then see if you can move on to more complex ideas about contrasting elements or opposites. If at first you can’t seem to really capture the contrast between two things in a compelling way, don’t worry—you have the great luxury of being able to delete and reshoot if things don’t work out the way you’d envisioned the first time around. Think of how you can adjust your camera angle, the way you’ve juxtaposed the two objects and how they are interacting with one another. Try different ideas and then decide later on which ones worked and which ones weren’t as successful. The only way you’ll really know for sure is if you brainstorm and then try every idea that occurs to you. Remember that ultimately your goal is to create images that make your viewer think—if you can do that, then you’ve succeeded.


1. How to find opposites
– Look for opposites in the natural world
– Find examples of opposite people
2. Use opposite (complementary) colors
3. Find contrasting objects, even if they aren’t strict opposites
4. Make a plan
– Brainstorm first
– Think in technical terms

What is focus stacking?

Filed in Macro, Tips by on March 2, 2017 5 Comments
What is focus stacking?

At some point, just about every photographer turns his attention away from those more obvious subjects, and points his camera at the things that we don’t often see—those tiny, thumbnail-sized things that we pass by every day but rarely stop to appreciate. Macro photography is a very attractive genre for many photographers, and it’s becoming more accessible as camera technology improves, and the cost of dedicated macro lenses goes down.

But if you started shooting macro without a whole lot of formal instruction, you may have noticed that your macro shots don’t look like a lot of those beautiful macros that you’ve admired on Flickr, or in magazines like National Geographic. To understand what I mean, keep reading.
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How to photograph theme parks

Filed in Holiday, Tips by on March 2, 2017 0 Comments
How to photograph theme parks

Ah, the family vacation. If you have small children, you’ve long ago left behind the idea of a romantic holiday in Paris, visiting The Louvre or backpacking in the high country. Your holiday destinations no longer include wine trains, fancy restaurants, and nightlife. These days your vacations are all about the kids.

Of course, I think it’s pretty safe to say that all but the snobbiest of parents love Disneyland. Even if you don’t much like the crowds and the long lines, you have to love the looks on your kids’ faces when they get to meet Elsa, Captain Jack, or The Mouse himself in person. But theme parks can be hazardous, too, both for your sanity and for your camera. What are some of the best (and safest) ways to capture those theme park adventures? Keep reading to find out.
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Representing Invisible Subjects: Electricity

Filed in Miscellaneous, Tips by on March 2, 2017 0 Comments
Representing Invisible Subjects: Electricity

Personally, I think invisible subjects have some of the best creative potential. Clearly, photographing something invisible is a challenge. Wait, how can you photograph something invisible at all? Read on to find out.
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What is a fast lens?

Filed in Lens, Tips by on February 23, 2017 0 Comments
What is a fast lens?

Even if you haven’t been taking pictures for very long, you’ve almost certainly heard the term “fast lens.” But what exactly is a fast lens? Is it a lens that focuses quickly? A lens that’s easy to switch out? What does that term mean? Read on to find out.

The answer is: none of the above. A fast lens is a lens that can take photos in low light. Huh? What does low light have to do with speed?

To answer that question, you first need to know a little bit about how aperture and shutter speed work in concert to create a photograph. When you use your camera’s auto mode (or a semi-automatic mode like aperture priority) to attempt to shoot a photo in low light, you may notice that your camera will lower the shutter speed in order to get a well exposed picture. This can even happen in lighting situations that you might not necessarily interpret with your own eyes as “low light,” such as indoors during the day, outdoors on a overcast day, or late in the evening, The reason your camera does this is because it needs to lengthen the shutter speed in order to allow enough light to reach your camera’s sensor. But the other reason why it does this is because many lenses (kit lenses in particular, which are the mid-range zooms that are typically sold as a part of a DSLR package) don’t have the large maximum apertures needed to allow for faster shutter speeds.


##What is aperture?

Aperture refers to the size of the diaphragm, or the opening between the lens and your camera’s image sensor. The bigger the opening is, the more light can get in, and the more light reaches your camera’s sensor. The smaller the opening is, on the other hand, the less light reaches your camera sensor. This is why we refer to a larger opening as a “large” or “wide” aperture, while a smaller opening is referred to as a “small” or “narrow” aperture.

When you’re shooting images in low light, you need to use larger apertures because the larger aperture lets more of the available light in, which will allow you to shoot the scene using a faster shutter speed. There are a couple of reasons why this matters—the first is so you can hold your camera in your hands when you’re taking pictures, rather than having to mount it on a tripod. You may not really notice this issue if you primarily shoot outdoors on sunny days, but as soon as the light starts to fall, your shutter speed does, too. When you use a slow shutter speed and you don’t have a tripod available, you can end up with an image that looks sort of wobbly or jagged. We call this “camera shake,” and unless you’re using it for artistic reasons it’s generally something to be avoided.

But slow shutter speeds can also be a problem when there’s movement in your subject: you’ll get a kind of streaky blur in living or otherwise moving things unless you can keep your shutter speed above a certain number. For example, most people and animals need to be shot at shutter speeds of around 1/125 unless they are consciously trying to keep still during a longer exposure. And when something is moving very fast—such as runners, bikers, or fast-moving vehicles—you need much faster shutter speeds of up to 1/500 or more. Sometimes, especially when the light is low, it’s just not possible to achieve these kinds of shutter speeds without also being able to use large apertures.


That is where the term “fast lens” comes into play—when a lens has a very large maximum aperture, we call that a “fast lens” because it means that you can use faster shutter speeds.

the three of us

##How fast is fast?

Depending on your perspective, a fast lens can be anywhere from f/3.5 or so to as fast as f/1.2. Most fast lenses are prime, which means that they have a fixed focal length such as 50mm or 100mm, rather than a variable focal length zoom such as 35mm to 70mm.

While there are fast zoom lenses on the market, they’re harder to come by than fast prime lenses are, especially when they feature longer focal lengths. The reason why this is true is pretty complex, but it really boils down to size and cost. Zoom lenses have more glass, so they have to gather more light to achieve the same apertures as prime lenses with similar focal lengths. This means that the lens must be a lot bigger and a lot more expensive in order to achieve those wider apertures—and economically speaking it’s just not something that can be done with a kit lens or a typical consumer-priced zoom.

Sunset at WTC Memorial

Now depending on how much money you like to devote to your hobby a fast lens may not or may not be within your budget. I like to recommend 50mm prime lenses for beginning photographers because they do tend to be pretty inexpensive compared to other focal lengths—a typical 50mm prime lens, for example, has a maximum available aperture of f/1.8 and a price point of around $150 to $200. For about twice the money you can go even faster—both Canon and Nikon have lenses available that can go as wide as f/1.4. For a considerably higher base price you can even go as fast as f/1.2, but for that you’re going to be up in the $1,000 to $1,500 range. For most photographers, a 50mm prime lens that has a maximum aperture of f/1.8 is going to be perfectly adequate.

Now the thing that you do need to keep in mind with very fast lenses is that a large maximum aperture typically means a shallow depth of field, depending on a few other factors such as distance between subject and camera and distance between subject and background. So you may find, for example, that when you shoot head shots at those large apertures, you may end up with a subject who has a tack sharp eye, but a blurry nose. That may or may not be OK depending on your perspective, but it is something that you need to be aware of. If you’re not sure, take a test photo and check the depth of field on your camera’s screen—or, use aperture preview if your camera has that feature. And remember that you can also compensate by turning up your ISO (which will allow you to use a narrower aperture) if you don’t like the very shallow depth of field you get at those very large apertures. Higher ISOs can add noise, but you may prefer a little noise to that shallow depth of field that you get when you shoot at f/1.8. It’s really a creative decision, so you need to make sure you understand what those higher ISOs are and what that larger aperture will do so that you can make an informed decision about how you want your final image to look.

Also keep in mind that backing away from your subject can significantly increase depth of field, so if those head shots aren’t satisfying try shooting a head and shoulders shot instead, or a full torso portrait. You’ll likely still achieve a blurry background, but most of your subject’s facial features will be sharp even despite the larger aperture.

I love my fast lens because when I use it I almost never have to resort to pop-up flash—pop-up flash is really something you should avoid in all but the most extreme circumstances and if you’ve got a 50mm prime lens or another fast maximum aperture lens in your camera bag at all times, then it using your pop-up flash will most likely become something that you do only on occasion. Pop-up flash, you probably know, can add a lot of unwanted elements to your photos such as red eye, washed-out faces and black halo shadows behind your subjects. If you can swap those things for a small loss of depth of field, why wouldn’t you?


A 50mm prime lens is something I frequently recommend that beginners obtain, maybe even as their first lens in addition to the kit lens it that your DSLR came with. It’s an extremely versatile lens—no, it doesn’t zoom, but there’s something to be said for zooming with your feet, isn’t there? A prime lens can really take your photography to new places, so if it’s in your budget it’s something I highly recommend. Fast lenses can help almost anybody get better pictures, especially when the sun starts to go down.

How to photograph cooking

Filed in Food, Tips by on February 23, 2017 0 Comments
How to photograph cooking

Confession: I love cooking shows. I love cooking blogs, too. And it’s not just because I hope to one day be able to re-create all those recipes for my own family table, it’s also because I just think there is something magical about the process of taking raw ingredients and transforming them into something delicious. And there’s something even more wonderful about beautiful photos that chronicle the process.

The very best food blogs have this down to a science. They know exactly how to light and shoot the process of preparing a recipe in order to make it as enticing as possible to an audience. You can do the same thing, too, and you don’t even need a food blog. Here’s how.
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How to photograph starbursts and lens flare

Filed in Sun, Tips by on February 23, 2017 0 Comments
How to photograph starbursts and lens flare

There was once a time when lens flare was considered a bad thing. No, really. It was an anomaly, something to be avoided. Today, lens flare is something we like. We use it for artistic and creative purposes. And only on a few occasions does it show up when it isn’t wanted. So how can you use lens flare creatively and effectively in your photos? Read on to find out.
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How to photograph subjects who wear eyeglasses

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How to photograph subjects who wear eyeglasses

Glare can be a big problem for photographers. It crops up everywhere, in lots of different situations—from the obvious glare that you get when you use your flash in front of a window or other reflective surface, to the less obvious glare that you might get on the surface of water. But one place where you are certain to notice it is when you were shooting photographs of people who are wearing glasses. For tips on how to photograph eyeglass-wearing people, keep reading. Continue Reading »

Ask David: why are my sunsets so boring?

Ask David: why are my sunsets so boring?

There are a few experiences that are common to pretty much every photographer. One of those experiences is photographing sunsets. Now, depending on where you are on the learning curve, you may find photographing sunsets to be intensely rewarding, or you may find it to be hugely frustrating. Just about every beginning photographer has had the experience of standing in front of the most beautiful sunset ever, taking a photo, and then being completely underwhelmed by the results.

It seems like it really should be the easiest thing in the world to point a camera at a beautiful sunset and get a fabulous picture. But it doesn’t work that way. Read on to find out why. Continue Reading »

How to photograph food in poorly-lit restaurants

Filed in Food, Tips by 0 Comments
How to photograph food in poorly-lit restaurants

The other day, while surfing around the Internet in search of inspiration, I noticed a banner entitled “delicious Instagram food pictures.” And, I did not click on it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love looking at delicious food pictures, and I am, in general, a fan of Instagram. But this particular food photo that was used for this particular banner did not make me suspicious that there would be any actual delicious food photographs behind that link if I clicked on it. Why? Because whoever shot and/or chose that particular photograph clearly lacked some basic knowledge about what exactly a delicious Instagram food photo should look like. Do you know what makes a photo look delicious? Read on to find out. Continue Reading »

How to learn from your mistakes (or, why no photo is a wasted photo)

How to learn from your mistakes (or, why no photo is a wasted photo)

This might have been a harder sell a few decades ago, when a ruined photograph meant some sort of financial cost. Back in the day, if you ruined a whole roll of 36 exposures, you’d be pretty annoyed it yourself. Not only would you be out the cost of the film, you’d also be out of the cost of the development and the time that it took to take your film into the photo shop or pharmacy and wait around for it to come back. And after all of that, you might not be inclined to look at those exposures and try to figure out what went wrong. In fact, you might be annoyed enough that you just throw the whole lot in a trashcan and try to get on with your life.

Today, things are different. Today, we don’t have to pay for every exposure, so we can shoot 36 of them, or even 100, get them all completely wrong and not have to pay a dime. Of course, you might argue that there is a loss of time to take into consideration, but my counter argument would be that the time hasn’t really been lost. Because whenever you make a mistake of any kind, there is an opportunity to learn from that mistake. And these days we also have a little something called EXIF, which helps make it even easier to look at those failed photographs and judge exactly where they went wrong. Read on for more. Continue Reading »

How to give your photos a sense of place

How to give your photos a sense of place

Travel photography is something pretty much all of us do. If you ever leave your house with your camera, and you travel farther away than your hometown to take photographs, you are a travel photographer.

Whether we’re shooting images of our family and friends out there on the road or just images of the destination itself, very few photographers don’t love to capture visual records of the places we have been. But there’s a difference between just shooting a photograph of a tourist destination and capturing an image that has a real sense of place. How do you know the difference? Read on to find out. Continue Reading »

How to photograph a solar eclipse

Filed in Sun, Tips by 0 Comments
How to photograph a solar eclipse

There was a time when a solar eclipse was considered a bad thing. The ancient Greeks believed that solar eclipses only happened when the gods were angry, and that natural disasters and general destruction were not far behind. The Vikings believed that when an eclipse happened, it was because hungry wolves were eating the sun. And in many cultures, a solar eclipse was said to portend death—King Louis the Pious died shortly after witnessing a solar eclipse, believing that it was a sign of God’s displeasure.

Today, of course, solar eclipses are just cool photography subjects. And they’re easy to photograph, too, provided you have the right equipment and a little bit of know-how. Keep reading to learn more.
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