Taking “Better Pictures” Doesn’t Mean a New Camera

I had an interesting conversation with someone the other day, one that I felt was worth recounting here. I was at a bookstore, perusing photography books for possible review here on the website. It was clearly a very slow day at the bookstore; while I was at the register, the checkout dude murmured something like, “these look interesting…I’d really like to take better pictures.”

We had a short conversation about whether these books might help, and he then asked me if I was a photographer. I told him yes, but that I was really more of an editorial guy who published a website about photography.

Without missing a beat, he said, “I really need a better camera. Which one should I buy?”

To which I replied, “Which phone do you have?”

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The Black-and-White Photo Mastery of Jason M. Peterson

While color photography has been with us in one form or another since the early 1900s, black and white remains for many of us as the pinnacle of the photographic arts. Capturing a scene properly in black and white is challenging, but when it is successful, the results have a beauty and a clarity that can be breathtaking. Most of the truly great photographers of the twentieth century—at least through the 1960s—shot solely with black-and-white film, despite the rapid rise of color slide film in the late ’40s and ’50s, and the wide-scale adoption of color print film after that.

The digital camera and the smartphone have largely relegated black-and-white photography as an afterthought—often via the click of a filter in Instagram or Lightroom—and I have long felt that this is one of the sad consequences of our modern world. I see plenty of black-and-white photos across the web, but so many of them are simply snapshots with the absence of color, and they lack the gravitas of great work.

Learning to see in black and white, and how to expose and compose for the gray tones is an art that requires study, experimentation and care, and it’s rare to see contemporary photographers who focus exclusively in this world. One who does, and has stunningly beautiful work, is Jason M. Peterson.

Age of quarrel by JasonM Peterson on 500px.com
Age of quarrel by Jason M. Peterson (500px.com)


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First Look at Photoshop Elements 2018

I’ve always believed that Photoshop Elements is the best-kept secret that Adobe has hiding in their arsenal. If you haven’t played around with it, I think you’ll be shocked by its features: it boasts everything from advanced selections with the Refine Edge feature to simplified Guided Edits that keep your processing streamlined. Every time I chat with another photographer about software, they never can believe how much DNA Photoshop and Photoshop Elements share.

Every year, when Adobe introduces their new version of Elements, they always toss in a few fun, fresh features to keep PSE-loyalists happy. This year, I can’t believe how excited I am about two of their new Guided Edit styles: the Double Exposure creator and the Background Changer. These two photo editing methods are incredibly popular, but also tedious and can drive people crazy with making hand-drawn selections. Luckily, thanks to some quick steps, the process just got a whole lot easier!

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Old Reliable: The annual Photoshop Elements update

True to its annual, autumnal form, Adobe today announced Photoshop Elements 2018, the latest version of the company’s image editing and organizational software for photographers, hobbyists, and, in Adobe’s parlance, “memory keepers.” As is the case with most of the yearly Elements updates, the new version doesn’t offer a ton of new features, but mostly adds new components to the Organizer and the Guided Edit modes in the product. (It also benefits from enhancements to the Photoshop engine found at the core of Elements.) Here are a few of the highlights in Elements 2018:

  • The Organizer adds a few new features designed to help folks work through large photo collections, including an Auto-Curate feature that automatically selects your best photos based on composition, faces, and “quality.” Like most machine-based tools, it will be hit or miss, but I found it fairly good in its execution.
  • The selection tools have been improved, making it much easier to create complex masks.
  • An ‘Open Closed Eyes’ feature can automatically copy the open eyes from one portrait and blend them  seamlessly into a second one.
  • New Guided Edit options, including background replacement, double exposure creation, and a number of additional artistic effects.
  • Additional (and improved) options in the project creation module, including more powerful slideshows, expanded print-at-home projects, and more.

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Photo Critique workshop with Ben Nov. 12

Ben is presenting an online image critique workshop on November 12:

Perhaps you’ve experienced this: you get up the nerve to show some of your images to someone else, but the images you think are great get a tepid response while images you almost didn’t include get lots of praise. In addition to being confusing, such responses can be demoralizing because they make you question your ability to recognize a good photo. The only way to learn what types of images resonate with people is through the process of critique—you have to show your images to someone who can speak clearly about what works and what doesn’t, and you need a variety of opinions.

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Conrad & Conlon: old-school baseball portraits

©Fred R. Conrad

One of my favorite recent photo essays is Fred R. Conrad’s Capturing Camaraderie in a Minor League Baseball Team, part of the New York Times’ excellent Lens blog. Conrad is a New York Times photographer who, drawing on the example of early 20th century sports photographer Charles Conlon, shadowed the Rockland Boulders, a minor league team based in Pomona, N.Y. Instead of using a digital camera, Conrad used an old Graflex 4×5 film camera to capture the intimacy and grace of the players in a fantastic collection of portraits and players in their environment. The 19 photos in the group are lovely, and worth your time, especially if you’re interested in portrait photography or baseball, or both. (You can find more of Conrad’s work on fredrconrad.com.)

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Meet Liz, one of the voices behind the blog

You may have noticed that there’s a new voice behind the Complete Digital Photography blog. Hi, my name is Liz LePage! Let me give you a quick introduction into who I am and what I do:

I’m a professional photographer, a creative retoucher, a dedicated educator and a life-long artist. I was lucky enough to be raised in an artistic household, with a father who loved photography and a mother who loved quilting. They both taught me to always try new things and to never let fear stop me from living. Their lessons have carried on with me and seep into every part of my life: I’ve never thought of myself as just a photographer. And I think that’s my biggest asset. I’ve tried everything from paper making to screen printing to oil painting, and I am constantly searching for new ways to express myself. Read more »

In the Swimming Pool, by Maria Svarbova

From In the Swimming Pool ©Maria Svarbova

Maria Svarbova’s In the Swimming Pool series is one of the most unique and beautiful photo projects I’ve seen in a while. Her mastery of light and color—reminiscent of Agfa’s classic slide films to me—and her attention to the pools’ symmetry and the swimmers’ forms make for stunning and captivating photos.

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Welcome to the new Complete Digital Photography

This blog has been published in various forms since 2001. Ben started with hand-crafted HTML before moving on to the WordPress platform in 2004 (or thereabouts—our memories are hazy on these points), and I (Rick) have helped out here and there at various times over the years—and over on our dear, departed sister site, Printerville.

[If you’re interested, you can see the first version of the site over on the Wayback Machine, as well as some choice variations along the way. Be kind, please.]

Since the beginning, this website’s primary focus has been to support the various editions of Complete Digital Photography with example files and extra content, and that’s been our only constant since this site went live. The support page for the current 8th edition of the book is here; and you can still access the the 7th edition’s support page here.

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Bookmarks: Julieanne Kost’s Blog

There must be a million websites devoted to photography (Google says as much), ranging from gear coverage to portfolios, photo news, opinions, business, learning, and more. Given the nature of this (yet another) photo site, I have to pay attention to more than I probably should, but most of you probably have a few that you check from time to time. If you work within the Photoshop and Lightroom post-production world, I have one that you should add: Julieanne Kost’s blog over at Adobe.com. Julieanne is an evangelist for Adobe, and her 2006 book, Window Seat: The Art of Digital Photography & Creative Thinking, is a beautiful, thoughtful meditation on creativity, and one of the books I always have close to me for inspiration. It is unfortunately out of print, but you can still find used copies here and there, and, if you have an iPad (or Mac), you can purchase an ebook version for under $5. (She also recently published Passenger Seat, a tutorial-based book designed to help you develop your own photographic project.)

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