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.



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







Artificial vs. Natural Light Photography

Hello, and welcome back to Through Our Lens.  In last month’s post, “Expanding to Portrait Photography” I wrote about what makes our portrait photography different and how we use lighting to achieve a memorable product.  In this post I would like to expand on that thought to explain my perspective on artificial and natural light photography.

For the purposes of this discussion “artificial” light includes any source of light from a bulb and “natural” light referring to a source such as the sun, moon or candlelight.  Often times the subject or mood of your photograph will dictate which type of light you choose.  Let’s begin with Natural light photography

Natural Light Photography

Depending on the intensity and angle of the light source, natural light tends to be the most pleasing in a photograph.  It can also be one of the most difficult to control.

Natural Lighting for Landscape Photography

“Golden hour” is a term that is used in photography that indicates the period shortly after sunrise or before sunset.  During this time light from the sun takes on a softer, more reddish tone.  It’s this type of light that gives a photograph that warm color tone.

In order to help show what a difference just a few minutes can make when it comes to natural lighting, let’s look at the same scene shot approximately two minutes apart.

No post processing to images



As you can see in the image above I have opened three images of the exact same scene in Adobe Bridge.  This is where I would normally do some post processing of the image but to keep things consistent all images were left untouched.


This first shot of Garden of the Gods, with Pikes Peak in the back was shot at approximately 6:48 a.m.

ISO 100, 5/s @ f22

Notice the slight pink shades illuminated on the clouds near the left.  You can also see the different contrasts between the rock formation colors.


Now let’s take a look at the next photograph which was captured at approximately 6:50 a.m.

ISO 100, 5/s @ f/22

In this photograph you’ll notice that while the colors on the clouds are becoming more prominent we begin to lose some of the deeper colors on the rock formations.


Here is our final image of this scene for this comparison.  It was taken at approximately 6:52 a.m.

ISO 100, 5/s @ f/22

While this photograph might technically be considered “properly exposed”, notice how it seems flat and lacking much contrast or color.

Natural lighting for Portrait Photography

Obviously most portrait sessions are going to occur at a more reasonable hour then at sunrise or sunset.  That’s not to say that they don’t, but we’ll discuss that more in the “Artificial Lighting” section.  So what time of day is best for natural lighting and portraits?

Generally speaking, early to mid morning or afternoon are the best times for outdoor portraits.  The reason for this is during these hours the sun is at a lower angle and not as intense.  This helps provide pleasing skin tones and natural shadows.

So let’s take a look now at “Artificial Light” photography

Artificial Light Photography

A good photographer friend of mine once told me “Control the light, control the shot”.  Having been a person that always avoided using any kind of flash for my photography (mainly because I didn’t understand it), this seemed like a strange statement to me.

Shortly after that conversation he pressured me into buying my first studio strobe, a purchase that I’ve never regretted.

Artificial lighting gives a photographer the ability to adjust light angle and intensity to achieve whatever look that they are wanting to capture.  The best way to explain this is to provide some examples.

Single light w/Strip Soft box positioned left

For this particular shot Sharon was looking for dramatic contrast between one side of the subject and the other side.  In order to accomplish this she used a single strobe with a narrow soft box positioned to the my left side.

As you can see in the photo, this setup allowed Sharon to light the my left side.  Because of the position of the soft box the light wrapped around softly lighting the right side of my face and the guitar then falls off quickly.

Let’s look at couple more photographs that is another perfect example of how artificial lighting can be beneficial in achieving a dramatic look.

Single light from overhead

For this shot I wanted to have a light shining down on the wine glasses to bring attention to the top of them.

The setup for this shot included a single strobe directly above the glasses with a honeycomb grid.  Using the grid allowed me to evenly distribute the light while narrowing it to approximately 30 degrees.

Sharon decided that there was something missing so she added some color to her shot.

Strobe overhead, Ring Flash from front

For this setup just using a single strobe overhead would not have produced the desired effect.  Simply lighting the bottle and glasses from the top would have left them dark and without much detail.

In order to bring some of the detail back Sharon used a ring flash to light them from the front.  Notice how the light from above created more of a spotlight effect helping draw the viewers attention to the main subject.

Artificial Light vs. Natural Light Photography

As you can see there are definitely specific applications for each type of lighting for photography.  That said, there are times when you’ll want or even need to use both.

Sunsets make for beautiful photos.   However if you’re trying to photograph a couple against the backdrop of that sunset you’ll either have to set your camera to properly light the couple or retain the colors of the sunset.  Or do you?

The simple answer is you can have both.  Using artificial light such as a strobe or a flash will provide the light necessary to properly expose the couple.  Because it’s such a short burst of light the sunset will not be overexposed.  This concept also applies to outdoor photography during the day.

Until next time

Thanks again for visiting us here at DS Visual Art.  We hope that you enjoyed this article and that you’ll consider subscribing to our main page, www.dsvisualart.com to stay updated on our latest photography.  Sharon and I look forward to hearing from you and hope you’ll consider us for all of your photography needs.

Sharon and Doug

Mastering the Manual “M” mode on a camera

In the beginning

In my first blog post, “A camera does not make a photographer”, I wrote about what I consider to be one of the most underutilized modes on the camera…Manual Mode.  I have to admit during my early years doing photography I never changed my camera from the “Program” mode also known as “Auto” mode.  As a matter of fact determining settings such as aperture and shutter speed seemed like a high level science to me.  A lot has changed since then.

Back to basics

In 1998 I attended a photography workshop.  There were several people that attended with a variety of cameras from point-and-shoots to DSLRs.  The instructor made a bold statement right at the beginning of the class.  “After this class you’ll never want to take your camera out of manual mode again.”  Needless to say my curiosity was peaked and I a bit intimidated not to mention skeptical.

John, the instructor began by showing the class a series of photographs and asked for individuals to guess what settings were used.  One of the main subjects that he really enjoyed photographing was wildlife.  He used images of a dark colored wolf against a dark background and mountain goats against a snow background to discuss proper exposure and 18% grey.

These two scenarios can prove to be a challenge.  For example, in the case of the mountain goat against snow.  If the mountain goat is used as the pure white the snow would take on a grey tint.  So in this case he suggested that in order to maintain the correct color balance that you should open the aperture one step.  The next subjects he discussed were aperture and shutter speed.

And then there was light

Obviously, he covered the fact that aperture controls how much light is allowed to hit the sensor and shutter speed determines how long the shutter is open, but wait there’s more.  He explained how these two elements can make the difference between a good photograph and a great photograph.  Now we’re talking!  I had to know more.

1/250 sec. @ f20

John explained that a digital sensor is just like film.  The longer you allow light to saturate the sensor the deeper the colors.  For example, have you ever taken a photograph of a landscape only to have the blue sky that appears to be washed out?  This is where shooting at a slower shutter speed with a smaller aperture can really make a difference.

While the subject in this image is not overly exciting it does show exactly what I’m talking about.  If you look at the sky right above the lower tree line you can see what the sky looked like when the photo was taken.  I included a screenshot of the Camera Raw control to show that the only adjustments that were made were “White Balance” and “Exposure” to show that there was no addtitional saturation adjustments.

The “Ah-ha” moment

All of this was great information but I was still trying to make sense of how to determine the aperture and shutter speed to use for proper exposure based on the environment.  Finally, the “science” was about to be revealed!  John explained how aperture affects depth-of-field and shutter speed is used to stop action.  Voila!

It finally made sense.  The real secret to manual mode is determining what exactly you’re trying to achieve in the photograph.

If you’re shooting an individual’s portrait the main emphasis should be on the person not on the background.  In this case you would concentrate on a shallow depth-of-field by using a wider aperture.

Conversely, if you’re photographing action subjects and want to ensure that the main subject is sharp (not blurred) it’s necessary to use a fast shutter speed.  So how fast you ask, that really depends on how fast the subject is moving.

1/500 sec @ f/5.6

This photo shows both the effects of shallow depth-of-field and fast shutter speed.

Looking at the water behind the duck you can see that it becomes out of focus due to a wider aperture.


Even though the shot was at a relatively high shutter speed there are parts of the duck that are still blurred.  Let’s take a closer look.

It’s difficult to see, however zooming in you can see the water droplets shedding off the front of the duck.  However as you can see the wings are blurred.  This is partially due to depth-of-field however it is mainly due to the shutter speed being too slow to stop the action of the duck’s wing.

The take-away

As you can see it’s not as difficult as it may seem to “Master” the manual mode on your camera.  It’s simply about determining what look you want in the photo and adjust your camera accordingly.

I hope that you’ve found this post both entertaining and informative.  If you have any questions please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Sharon and Doug

Photograph one subject from a variety of angles

Photograph various angles

In a previous blog post “A camera does not make a photographer” I spoke about the various aspects of a photograph, among them the idea of composition.  Many times photographers, myself included, see things a certain way but fail to look at it from a different perspective.  Concentrating on a fixed perspective leads to missed opportunities for fantastic images.

This reality hit me many years ago when a colleague asked me to critique some of his photographs.  He had just bought a camera for use as a part of his 3D modeling business and was just learning how to use it.  Reviewing his images I found myself fascinated by his approach to photographing seemingly simple subjects from different angles.

Viewing things differently

Since that time I continually make a concerted effort to not only get the shot that I’m looking for but also trying to look at things from different perspectives.

As part of a photography group challenge each person would select a subject and photograph it from a variety of angles and present 3-5 images.  As simple as that may seem it can be extremely difficult.  I really struggled with deciding on a subject but finally settled on a bottle of wine.  Let me tell you it was not easy coming up with even 3 images.

Abstract view

The first image I came up with was of the seal on the top of the bottle.  The intent was to keep this image very abstract not providing the viewer a lot of detail about the subject.

In order to help isolate the seal I shot the image in a dark room using just a small light to illuminate the seal.  As you can see from the image the stark contrast of the seal color and the black background help maintain focus on the details of the seal.

Shallow depth of field

For the next angle I laid the bottle on its side.  Again using a small light to illuminate the bottle, direct lighting results in nice separation of the bottle from the background.  With a shallow depth of field I was able to give the viewer more detail of the bottle while keeping the label out of focus.

This angle provides a clearer view that this is a bottle of wine, while the details of the wine are unclear.  As with the first image the dark background and direct lighting provides a great deal of contact for the image.  In order to provide more of a vintage feel the photograph was processed using a sepia tone.

Detailed View

For the final image I photographed the bottle straight on using several direct lights and backlight creating a very dramatic effect.  The backlight provides additional separation of the dark wine bottle from the background.  Likewise the direct lighting provides highlights on the sides of the label leaving contrast on the center of the label.

The intention of using this angle was to two-fold.  First provide greater details about the wine for the viewer.  The second was to set the image mood.  Wine is often associated with a quiet, relaxed atmosphere.  The deliberate lighting of the label and backlighting of the bottle help accentuate this mood.  The only thing that might have helped set the mood would have been a fireplace.

Closing thoughts

At DS Visual Art providing fine art photography is a passion that we take very seriously.  From the initial concept to final product we strive to provide the highest quality to our customers.  This includes making sure that we photograph every subject from the optimal angle.  I hope that you’ve enjoyed this post and that you’ll subscribe to our site for future updates.


Sharon and Doug

A camera does not make a photographer

It never ceases to amaze me how many “photographers” have appeared since the introduction of digital cameras.  Don’t get me wrong, with the advances in camera technology it has enabled more people to take some pretty good photos.  However back to my original point this does not necessarily make the person a photographer.

When it comes to the art of photography there are many factors that contribute to creating a high quality photograph.  Among these include composition, lighting, exposure and depth of field to name a few.  There’s no doubt that the camera plays an important role in capturing a high quality image.  When I refer to the “camera” I’m talking about both the body and the lens.  Most cameras have a variety of settings that allow even a novice to get a properly exposed image.  Probably one of the most under-utilized settings is “Manual” mode.  In this setting the photographer has to set both aperture and shutter speed.  These two settings along with ISO make up the triad that determines the exposure of the photograph.

Aperture also directly relates to how sharp or conversely out of focus the background is in an image.  This is referred to as “depth of field”.  The smaller the number of the aperture results in more light that is allowed in as well as more blur in the background or “shallow” depth of field.  Going the other way, a higher number aperture results in sharper background referred to as “deep” depth of field.  It’s worth mentioning that the focal length of the lens will also have an impact on depth of field.  So wide-angle lenses will not provide extreme shallow depth of field as a long telephoto lens does.

So at a high level that covers the camera, but there is also the idea of composition.  Wikipedia does a great job of defining composition as it relates to visual arts as “the placement or arrangement of visual elements or ingredients in a work of art”.  There is a general photography rule that helps in composition, this rule is called “The rule of thirds“.  The Wikipedia link provides a detailed explanation of this rule, but in short it’s the idea of breaking an image into nine equal parts.  With this separation you place important elements on the intersecting lines.

As you browse our gallery, you see how each of these components play into our images.  At DS Visual Art we take every step possible to ensure that we capture the best possible image.  We start by working with state of the art equipment to create high quality photos for use in a variety of formats.  We are pleased to share some of those special moments with the hope that you not only see the image but “feel” the emotion behind the scene captured.