Simple beauty

Sometimes single objects can make some of the most interesting photographs. With the studio now set up I’ve been looking for any opportunity to do some photography.

Simple low-key setup

For this shot I chose to use a single object, a head of garlic. Because of the small size of my subject I knew that I would have to not only use a small light source but also control the direction for the light in order to minimize unwanted lit areas.


  • Backdrop – Black Savage paper backdrop
  • Platform – Posing table
  • Flash – Nikon SB-800 speed light with snoot* made from a koozie
  • Light stand for flash – Located right of subject

*Snoot – In photography, a snoot is a tube or similar object that fits over a studio light or portable flash and allows the photographer to control the direction and radius of the light beam. These may be conical, cylindrical, or rectangular in shape. Snoots can isolate a subject when using a flash. Wikipedia

After taking a couple of test shots I found that because of the light position and narrowness of the light I needed some way of lightening some of the shadows on the left side of the garlic.

While there are many fancy ways that this could be accomplished the only thing that is required is some way of bouncing light back on the subject. For this particular shot I used a simple sheet of paper. This proved to be ideal to bring just enough light back onto the garlic head to help soften the harsh shadows.

Although not necessarily intentional, the posing table provided a slight reflection. For this particular shot I think that this really helps the image so it doesn’t look like the garlic is just floating in mid-air.

So as you can see with a small setup and just a simple subject you can achieve some really images. I highly encourage everyone to do whatever you need to in order to continue to hone your photography skills.

In the coming weeks I will be doing some low-key portrait photography as well as continuing to do some more still-life shots. Anyway, thanks as always for checking in at our site and if you have any questions or comments please be sure to reach out to us.

Thank you,

Sharon & Doug Shatto

Studio is LIVE!

Well we’ve talked about it, but we can officially say the DS Visual Art studio is live and open for business. The backdrops are up and lights are ready to go. As mentioned in previous posts the studio area has accessibility that allows photographing from a higher vantage point down into the main shop area.

Barn Door allows shooting photography down into main shop
Main studio with lights & backdrops

We so happy to have this new space and are looking forward to capturing some amazing photographs. If you’re looking for portrait photography call us today to book a session. If you’re looking for some amazing fine art be sure to check out our website,

Studio update

Well as we stated last month we’ve been working on building out some studio space for DS Visual Art. It’s with great satisfaction that we can say that the studio is finally nearing completion.

Studio space with new flooring

It’s been almost a year in the making, and years of dreaming, but the studio is almost complete. The photo above shows about 2/3 of the space. Since this image was taken we have installed our backdrop hanger (which will hold 3 different backdrops).

In addition to backdrops, we’ve started moving lighting equipment up to the space. One thing that makes this space unique is the fact that with the studio being in a loft area, we have build in the ability to photograph from the loft to the lower level of the building. While the primary space will be used for portrait and other types of photography, we will also have the space to accommodate vehicle photography.

Other features we will be adding in the very short term will be themed backgrounds and lighting supports to reduce the need for light stands which will help increase shooting space.

That pretty much sums up this update. Thanks for continuing to follow our journey. Stay tuned as we’ll be looking to start providing more instructional posts now that we have a space to do them.

Update on DS Visual Art

Well it’s been a while since we’ve posted anything here on our blog. One of the main reasons for this is we moved and as part of the move are building out a photography studio space.

While we’ve had studio space in the past it’s always felt very temporary, this new space is shaping up to be a very versatile space. We’re looking forward to it’s completion which we’re thinking should be Winter of ’19.

In addition being able to provide studio portrait photography, we’ll be better equipped to do product photography and creative shots. Oh and one thing that I forgot to mention is we’ll be able to do some indoor vehicle photography as well.

That’s about it for the update. Thanks for sticking with us and stay tuned for more updates.

Doug & Sharon

Raging water to misty fog

You’ve seen those photographs, you know the ones where rough waters are somehow transformed into a smooth misty fog. As discussed in previous posts we have talked about how using a slower shutter speed can be used to blur fast moving subjects, but depending on the time of day this can be difficult…or can it?

During our recent trip to Kauai, HI, Sharon and I had the opportunity to do some of this type of photography. With numerous beaches and available waterfalls we set out to capture this type of images often during the daylight hours. In order to do this we used a “10 stop filter”, specifically the Ice 77mm ND1000 Solid Neutral Density 3.0 Filter (10-Stop) from B&H Photo

It is worth saying that this technique doesn’t necessarily suit every situation. That said, let’s take a look at some different shots.

First let’s take a look at Wailua Falls (location used during filming of the TV show Fantasy Island).

Both of the photographs were taken at approximately 12:50 p.m. in the afternoon. The first image was taken at ISO 31, 1/125 of a sec at f/8.0 As you can see in the image because of the slower shutter speed there is still some softness in the water but there are still some details. For the second shot the following settings were used in addition to the filter (ISO 31, 30 secs at f/10.0).

As you can see in the images, using this filter we’re able to reduce the shutter speed significantly thereby softening details of the water. Let’s take a look at another example.

The next location was near Poi’pu Beach on the island’s South Shore. We were on location to do some sunset photography, but arrived a bit early so it was a perfect chance to use the 10 stop filter.

Again these images were taken during the same period of time, around 7:20 p.m.. Obviously the waves weren’t exactly the same, however you get the idea.

Settings for first image – ISO 31, 1/60 of a sec at f/13

Settings for second image – ISO 31, 30 sec at f/10

Notice how the waves that were several feet in height are reduced to nothing more than a slight mist around the rocky shore. This relatively inexpensive filter opens up a whole new look for your photographs.

Now the details:

A 10 stop Neutral Density filter is almost completely black making in nearly impossible to see through to focus. The best thing to do when using this type of filter is to set your lens (or camera) to Manual focus mode.

With the camera on a tripod compose your image in the viewfinder and making sure that you’ve focused the image. Determine your shutter speed and aperture for proper exposure without the filter. Using a 10 stop filter calculator determine your new shutter speed to be used with the filter and set your camera to that setting.

Because you’re going to be shooting at very long shutter speed there are another thing to pay attention to in order to reduce unwanted blurring, activating the shutter. When shooting long exposures at a minimum you should use the self-timer to actuate the shutter.

A better option is to use a shutter release cable or wireless shutter release. To further reduce any potential movement, if your camera has it, you can use what’s called the Mirror Up or Mup mode in conjunction with your shutter release. The first press of the button locks the mirror up. It isn’t until you press the button again that the shutter activates, thereby limiting any vibrations from the shutter.

So that pretty much wraps it up. For a small cost you too can be out there taming those raging waters and creating some cool effects in your photos. Thanks for checking us out and hope you continue to follow us here.

Pricing now available on our site

As indicated in our previous post, we at DS Visual Art have listened to you our customers. We now have added Portrait pricing as well as pricing for a variety of mediums for our gallery photographs. Head over to today to check them out and as always thanks for your feedback.

Change to services

As times change so must businesses. In the past DS Visual Art has not offered digital images files. There were a number of reasons for this decision. However, after heavy consideration of feedback received from our customers we have decided to begin offering digital image files with each of our packages.

This change is our way of meeting the needs of our customers. We appreciate the feedback and are always looking for the best way to serve you.

What we strive to capture during a session

When doing photography there are a lot of factors to consider.  Lighting, environment, depth-of-field and the list goes on and on.  However the key factor is the subject being photographed.

For this post let’s concentrate on portrait photography.  Before even picking up a camera Sharon and I work with the customer to determine what type of photograph they are looking for.  After all, the session is about them and not so much about what we want as photographers.

This leads to discussions about things such as location, casual vs. formal, etc.  Having these conversations before the shoot help establish a rapport between us and the customer.

“Natural” look

One thing that I’ve always hated about portrait photographs is they generally seem so staged and unnatural.  So may times when being photographed people are told to “SMILE” or “Say Cheese”.  The only thing that this often leads to is look that is not natural for some people.  I personally have a difficult time smiling for pictures and when I try to force a smile it’s obvious (at least to me) that it was forced.

So what is our approach to combat the unnatural look?  This too goes back to establishing relationships early in the session.  Let’s face it there are people out there that are comfortable in front of a camera, but I would venture to say that the number is smaller than you think.  So for the rest of us a softer approach is required.

We do our best to put the subject at ease by having light, casual conversation with them.  It’s amazing how just learning a little bit about your subject and genuinely engaging in conversation about them can help reduce the tension of a photoshoot.

The end goal

All of the preparation leading up to this point to achieve the ultimate “end goal” an image that the captures the subject “naturally” and that the customer will cherish forever.  I can’t state it any clearer than that.

Sure there are many factors that make up a quality image, however those are all for not if you did a poor job of capturing the main subject.  That is why Sharon and I pay particular attention to making the subject comfortable.  From there we use our knowledge of photography to capture the best quality image.

Our passion

Photography is a passion for us not a hobby.  We love getting behind the camera to share our world as well as helping people document times in their lives.  We hope that you’ve enjoyed this article.  Feel free to share it with your friends and family, along with checking out our main site DS Visual Art.  There you can view some our portrait work or purchase prints from our many galleries.

Thanks for joining us on this journey and we hope to hear from you soon.



Back in the studio with lights

I’d like to start this post by saying “Thank You” to my wife and business partner Sharon for her constant support on this photography adventure.  It was because of her that we’ve established a studio location which affords us the opportunity to make full use of our light equipment without having to continually drag it out.

With the onset of colder weather here in Colorado my desire to be outside shooting is very low, having a studio location has been a huge benefit.  Recently I was looking for photography ideas and stumbled upon an article about photographing smoke.

Having done this type of shoot in the past I thought it might be fun to revisit this subject.  There were a couple of things that I identified during the planning of this shoot.

1.  Would like to use a “safe” source for the smoke.     

    2.  Want to reduce strong smell created by smoke

In the past I had used incense as a smoke source.  While this is a relatively safe source, the odor from incense can be very pungent and takes a long time to dissipate.  I also considered using a candle, but this poses many of the same issues as incense.  It was looking like I might be forced to use one of these two sources when it dawned on me that Sharon has an essential oils mister. SCORE!

Now that I had a safe source for smoke (or mist) in this case it was time to set up the lights.  For this shot I used two lights (one on each side) with matching stripbox light modifiers and grids against a solid black backdrop.

So why did I chose to light this using side lighting?  The primary reason was to retain definition in the smoke.  Had this image been lit using a light straight on from the front it would have flattened the mist losing detail.

Another issue with front lighting is minimizing light from falling on the backdrop.  This is where the grids on the stripboxes help limit where the falls, as you can see from the small strips of light on each side of the mister.  Without the grids the light would have wrapped around the front edge.

Now that I had the image it was time for post processing.  In order to make the image more dramatic I decided convert the base image to B&W and add some color to the mist.  The great thing about the process used to add color in Photoshop is I could change it to any color that I wanted.  This gave me an idea of combining three copies of the one image and using different colors.  Here is my “patriotic” edition.

Sharon and I have been asked in the past about how to reduce light hotspots or reflections when doing product photography.  Not only does this lighting setup provide a very dramatic effect it can be extremely useful for product photography.

Using the same setup as above I decided to do some test shots of my guitar.  Moving the lights slightly closer to the camera but still parallel to the subject I was able to achieve good front lighting without creating any harsh reflections.

This image perfectly demonstrates my previous point about side-lighting for product photography.  The finish on the guitar is very glossy which if lit from the front would have produced reflections of any light source which would could be distracting.

As you’re already aware I’m a big fan of using external lights for photography, both indoor and outdoor.  That being said I would like to  encourage you, the reader, to experiment with different lighting angles.

If you have any questions regarding the equipment or techniques used please feel free to contact me.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this article.




Painting with light

In last month’s post we looked at natural vs. artificial lighting for photography.  For this month I would like to take a closer look at controlling the appearance of a subject using artificial lighting in a technique called “Light Painting”.

Light painting defined

Light painting as defined by Wikipedia

Light painting, or light drawing, is a photographic technique in which exposures are made by moving a hand-held light source while taking a long exposure photograph, either to illuminate a subject or to shine a point of light directly at the camera, or by moving the camera itself during exposure.

One of my light painting projects

As you’re already aware I’m a big fan of using artificial lighting to created dramatic contrasts in photos.  What interests me about light painting is the idea of illuminating a subject in ways that would be extremely difficult, if not impossible with large light sources.

For this project I photographed a group of decorative vases lit only by a penlight flashlight from different angles.  Using the light like a brush I moved the flashlight to help “paint” the different vases using a long exposure.

Final Composition – Vase Light Painting Project

If you look closely at the light reflecting on the different vases you can begin to see the different angles that each was lit.  This one image is comprised of eight different images (or layers in Photoshop).  Let’s take a look at each one to see how it contributes to the final image.

Layer 1

Top lighting of second vase opening.

As you can see in this image everything was completely dark with the exception of the opening of the vase.  There was some light that bled on to the wall behind the vases so I needed to remove it using a layer mask (the white rectangular shape on this image.

Layer 2

Vases lit from right slightly behind

Again, you can see some areas that I masked out using a layer mask, but notice the edge lighting on the three vases.

Layer 3

Vases lit from the left side

Layer 4

Concentrated light on left vase

Layer 5

Concentrated light on third vase

Layer 6

Concentrated light on second vase

Layer 7

Additional lighting on third vase

Layer 8 – Final Layer

Concentrated light on fourth vase

Detail discussion

Let’s take a look at this composition in Photoshop

Vase Light Painting Composition in Photoshop

In order to make the final image all of the individual shots were brought into a single file as layers.  From here each layer was adjusted to remove any unwanted lighting or other subjects using layer masks.

As I mentioned before this technique allowed me to light each of the vases in very specific ways.  Now that we’ve gone through the individual layers, look at the vase on the far right.  Notice how there there are light reflections on the right and left sides as well as on the front.

If this vase was the only subject you could probably use three different light sources, however having other vases in this grouping it makes things more complicated.

Another factor to consider.  Look at the lighting on the wall behind the vases, notice how it helps provide separation between the vases and the background.  Because of the small profile of some vases it would be very difficult to hide a light source behind them.

Closing thoughts

It’s always fun to experiment with different photography techniques.  I especially enjoyed doing this project.  While there were some challenges to overcome, such as some uncontrollable light spill it was a great learning experience.

Furthermore, I feel that this particular project does a great job of demonstrating that “if you control the light you control the shot”.  I hope that you enjoyed this month’s topic.  If you have any suggestions of topics you’d like to hear more about please let us know.

Thank you.

Doug Shatto