Food For Digital Thought: Light at the Edge of Darkness

Front light right on the edge of darkness

Front light right on the edge of darkness

Light is one of my favorite subjects to talk about…why? Because light is everything to me, and that’s why over the past five years of writing these posts I have written several on the subject; my mantra is you find the light, you’ll find the shot.

In one of my online lessons with the BPSOP, I talk about my clock, and always knowing where the sun is on it. In other words, Printif you look at my clock you’ll see where the camera is in relation to the subject. From there you can determine if your subject is going to be side lit, back lit, or front lit.

For example, if the source of the light is coming from behind the 8,9 or 3, or 4 then you’re subject will be side lit. If the light is coming in from the 10 or 2, I call that the “law of the light where the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection; my favorite way to light people.

If the light is coming from behind the 11,12,or 1, then it will backlight the subject. Last, if the light is coming from behind the 5,6,or 7, then your subject will be front lit.


Light right on the edge at 10 o’clock

By the way, I avoid front light like the plague, and when I’m shooting with my fellow photographers that sign up for my “Stretching Your Frame of Mind” workshops I conduct around our planet, it’s easier to physically show them the difference between all the different ways just my merely turning the subject or have them move around the same subject.

The reason I avoid front light is because you won’t be able to achieve depth, you’ll only be able to show height and width. You can show the third dimension by having the sun behind the 9 or 3…which is true sidelight.

Now, I’ve talked about the clock before but what I want to add to the mix is placing your subject just at the edge of darkness. what I mean is placing your subject right where the light ends and the dark background begins. I like to do this for a couple of reasons:

The first reason is that it will create visual tension.  Two of the ways to create visual tension is through contrast and the use of light. The second reason I like to do this is because of the Figure-Ground concept in the psychology of Gestalt; putting a light object or subject against a dark background.

I said that I don’t like to front light, but the one exception is when I have my subject in the light but right on the edge of darkness so that I’m taking advantage of Figure-Ground; as I’ve done in the photo above.

On July 30th I begin my 29th year at the Maine Media Workshops. I’ve had the same week since the beginning. It’s the week of the Lobster Festival down the road in Rockland. It offers a completely different set of photo ops than one would expect when coming to photograph the coastline, lighthouses, and fishing villages of Maine. Come join me and spend a week completely immersed in your love for photography.

After trying to work out the schedules for the past couple of years, next January I’ll be doing a workshop with William Yu in China:

Yunnan China with William Yu

Although the workshop/photo tour has filled, we’re putting people on a wait list, so be sure to check out the description.

-BPSOP Instructor: Joe Baraban

Joe Teaches:

Stretching Your Frame of Mind I 

Stretching Your Frame of Mind II

Why is Photo Editing Essential?


Are you spending a lot of time learning your digital camera? Maybe you’re getting up early to shoot at just the right location, in just the right light? Are you getting the results you hoped you would? You’re not?

Learning effective photo processing with a program like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is easily half of the skills you need to create amazing images with your digital camera.

I have been using Adobe Photoshop for many years, but have recently converted to doing the bulk of my editing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Lightroom is a powerful program that offers you easy adjustments to push your editing and your photography from good to great.

Advanced digital cameras have come a long way to getting you properly exposed images, but if you don’t know some simple editing techniques, you will be not be getting the maximum out of your camera.

Why do I like Lightroom so much? 

Lightroom not only offers amazing advanced editing techniques, but also gives you the ability to easily organize your whole catalog of pictures with a series of tags, star, and flag ratings. When you first import your images into Lightroom, you can set up your ratings on your favorite images, and never lose them again. I am now able to find a single image that is in my Lightroom catalog in a matter of seconds. (I now have over 30,000 images in my catalog.)


I have this great camera, why do I need photo editing programs like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom to create a finished image?

Many of my clients purchase the newest, neatest camera, thinking it will give them the quality images they want. Sometimes it does the trick, sometimes it does not. Yes, it takes a lot of effort to learn Photoshop or Lightroom, but these programs are so powerful, once you get the basic tools, you won’t want to go back. The advanced DSLR cameras these days give you an option to create JPG images that automatically have preset settings as far as color, saturation and sharpening. If you compare a JPG image and a RAW image you will see the difference. The JPG may look bright and saturated, where the untouched RAW may look flat and lifeless.  Why is that?

That’s because when you shoot in JPG, you are letting the camera make the creative decisions for you.

You have some control over in camera processing of JPG images. You can go into your internal settings of your camera and increase saturation or brightness to your liking, but are you really taking creative control of your images?

When you shoot with a RAW file, you can non-destructively change the white balance, color contrast, and saturation to your liking in Lightroom.  If you decide to change these settings with a JPG file in post processing, with every adjustment, you are affecting the quality of the image and are losing resolution.  At the very least, work with a TIFF file, where it has LOSSLESS image adjustment.

If you have pre-visualized your picture when you take it, you will have a good idea of where you would like to go with this picture in post processing.

Why doesn’t the camera catch what I see?

A digital camera can only read a certain range of light and gamut of color. By using post processing, you are allowing the image to reflect exactly what you saw at the scene, or what you visualized when you took the picture. The trick here is to not over saturate, over sharpen, or generally overdo the editing process so it looks fake or cartoonish. But if that is your creative vision, then go for it!

How do I get there? 

Practice, practice, practice. Take a good beginning course like my Lightroom Quick Start Class, or get a mentor who can help you with the process. If you are serious about your photography, you will be happy you did.

If you are ready to learn more about this powerful program, join me for my Lightroom Quick Start class. This is the clearly the other half of creating amazing images. Once you have learned the workings of your digital camera, it is now time to learn how to effectively edit in a program like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

HollyHolly Higbee-Jansen is a passionate photographer and photo workshop leader, and has been exploring her fascination with light since she was a young child. As a co-owner and guide for, she loves taking small groups of clients to beautiful places to help them explore their photographic creativity. Join them on one of their photographic workshops in iconic locations in the American West and Iceland. Live life creatively!

Reach Holly by email at: and read her blog at:

BPSOP Instructor – Holly Higbee-Jansen
Holly Teaches:


Two Heads are Better Than One

How to deal with the unfortunate facial expression in group portraits

To help you along during your portrait taking sessions, I’d thought I’d share a technique for a common problem with group portraits.

Most of the time, but especially with shots including babies, if you have more than one person in the shot, someone is not going to look as good as the others in the shot. The example below shows two images from a recent photo shoot I did of my daughter, her husband, and their new baby (yep, I’m a grandfather now)!

Comparing two candidates for a final image.

Comparing two candidates for a final image.

The proud parents look great in shot on the left, but the baby looks best on the right. When I’m photographing small children and babies, I tend to concentrate on their fleeting expressions and mostly ignore the adults. Despite coaching the adults to “keep looking at me,” there is almost always a shot or two like this, where the kid is great but the adults are not. In this particular instance, I was making aggressively funny noises to get a smile out of the baby, and when I succeeded, I snapped the shutter immediately; the parents obviously thought I was funny as well, and they couldn’t contain their composure. Fortunately it was easy to find a shot from the same angle where the parents look good. Now, one only has to combine the two shots with the best heads from each!

Open as Layers in Photoshop

Open as Layers in Photoshop

It is easy to bring these two shots into Photoshop as layers by using the Edit in… menu in Lightroom as shown above. When they open in Photoshop they will be in one document as layers. You might have to rearrange them so that you have the replacement head, in this case the better baby head shot, on top. Now you have to position the top layer so that the baby’s head is lined up with the head underneath. Make a layer mask by clicking on the mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and, to facilitate lining up the two heads, temporarily change the layer blend mode to Difference…

Add a white layer mask and change the blend mode to Difference

Add a white layer mask and change the blend mode to Difference

Ideally, the two heads will be almost the same except for the expression. Difference shows the degree to which things differ in how much they deviate from black—if things are exactly the same they will show as featureless black— otherwise it tends to look like an inversion. Here, only the overall shape of the head is the same, but by moving and rotating I can get things to be close to black, and I can see where things don’t line up easily by the light “mackie-lines” that show up. I’ve concentrated on lining up the ears and the outside edges of the head to make the blending process easier.

Difference cancels like things out to black when things are lined up.

Difference cancels like things out to black when things are lined up.

Once you are satisfied that the heads are as closely aligned as possible, change the blend mode back to Normal. Now you have the good head on top of the bad head, but we want to hide the rest of the layer. I’ve found that the easiest way to proceed here is to mask out the good head, and then invert the layer mask; you end up doing a lot less painting that way. Take the Brush tool and paint into the head with black, making sure that you have the layer mask selected in the Layers panel.

left side= bad head revealed

left side= bad head revealed

Gradually reveal the underlying head by painting black with a soft-edged brush over the head. The following image shows half the head masked away.

left side = bad head revealed

left side = bad head revealed

To make sure your mask doesn’t have any “holes,” you can “solo” the mask by option/alt clicking on the mask thumbnail. This turns off all the RGB channels to reveal what the mask looks like.

The "soloed" mask reveals any holes

The “soloed” mask reveals any holes

Fill in any holes and then invert the mask by hitting Command/cntrl-“i,” or selecting from the image adjust menu…

Invert the Mask

Invert the Mask

Now the white areas of the mask reveal the good head.

The white mask reveals

The white mask reveals

Good Baby

Good Baby

You can toggle the visibility of this top layer by clicking the little “eye” icon in the Layers panel—go back and forth a couple of times to check that everything is lined up properly—and make adjustments as necessary.

Good Baby

Good Baby

The final image has the best of both shots seamlessly combined into one. This quick and easy technique helps to take the stress out of the holiday shooting session, because you no longer have to obsess over how everyone looks in any given shot. It is relatively easy to shoot enough coverage to insure that you have enough good heads to go around!

Good luck!

-BPSOP Instructor: Lee Varis

Lee Teaches:

Learning to Shoot with Your iPhone – the Possibilities are Endless!

Do you want to learn to shoot great pictures with your iPhone camera? Do you want to learn to create spectacular images quickly and easily? With some basic photography skills and the help of some really fun apps, I’m here to tell you that the iPhone is a great camera. I’m a professional photographer, teach on location photography workshops in beautiful places and two online classes with BPSOP, iPhone Photography and Lightroom Quick Start.


Basic photography composition

First and foremost, basic composition and photography rules apply if you want to get the best quality image from your iPhone. The most helpful composition tip when using any camera is the rule of thirds. This basic composition aid will take you into the realm of amazing pictures fast. You can even shoot a trash can and it will look great using this tool (but we like to get WAY more creative!)

rule of thirds

New fun features of the native camera app.

The native app (the camera app that comes with the phone) has a feature in the iPhone starting with the 6s called Live Photo.  Basically Live photo takes a 3 second video along with your picture.  You don’t need to do anything technically, just be sure this feature is turned on. There’s a little button in the top of the screen on the iPhone that allows you to toggle it on and off. You can get creative with this feature, but you need to think about it a bit first. Some of my favorites that I’ve done with this feature are my dog playing with a stick on the beach. I caught the still image as he was jumping in the air, but the 1.5 seconds before and after showed him jumping and running after the stick.  A moment in time caught in a 3 second video!

My Favorite Shooting App

Camara+My favorite app to shoot with is called Camera+. I like Camera+ because it separates your focus and exposure points allowing you to create the sharpest and best correctly exposed images. You can save these images to your iPhone camera roll and edit them with other apps. It also saves in the more editing friendly TIFF and RAW formats.

How to pick and choose the best features in the apps

I use a variety of different apps but I don’t use every feature in every app.  i like to pick and choose the features of each app and use different apps for different purposes. It’s fun and easy to pick and choose and get great results from using a variety of apps. In the BPSOP class, I go over 10+ apps, and talk about combining effects with several different apps.

Learn the importance of editing.

My favorite editing app is Snapseed. Editing is the secret of good pictures. While you might be able to create something nice right out of the camera, it is only really going to pop if you add some saturation, exposure control and sharpening to the image. Once you start editing, you will see how important this is and use it regularly to create great images.

This image of half dome in Yosemite was edited in Snapseed’s black and white filter. Snapseed has a variety of fine tuned adjustments and my favorites are brightness, ambiance, saturation and shadows. Using these techniques will make all the difference in the quality of your images.


If you’d like to learn more about how to create incredible imagery with your iPhone, join me in my next iPhone Photography Class at BPSOP.

We also teach in person group and private photography classes in California, Iceland and Costa Rica. iPhone’s are always welcome on our workshops!

Learn more information about our trips at


Holly Holly Higbee-Jansen is a passionate photographer and photo workshop leader, and has been exploring her fascination with light since she was a young child. As a co-owner and guide for, she loves taking small groups of clients to beautiful places to help them explore their photographic creativity. Join them on one of their photographic workshops in iconic locations in the American West and Iceland. Live life creatively!  Reach Holly by email at: and read her blog at:

-BPSOP Instructor – Holly Higbee-Jansen

Holly Teaches:

iPhone Photography

Lightroom Quickstart


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  • "I walk away from this course FINALLY being able to create sharper pictures in sports! My expectations were modest and they were easily surpassed! A great concept, shoot for your audience, definitely helps me with the type of approach I will take. … Thanks for putting on this course, Russ, I had a great time!"
    Chad G Sports Photography
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