Get in the ballpark first, then refine your camera angle

The below builds upon “The one simple thing that will improve your photos immediately”. (Read that post here.) Excerpted from Photography Essentials, taught by instructor Brit Hammer.


Get in the ballpark first, then refine your camera angle

Walk around your subject, looking at it from four sides, if possible. Begin at subject level. As you look from each of the sides, ask these two questions:

  1. Does the light enhance your specific subject?
  2. Are there any distracting elements in the background?

As you move around the subject, notice how the light on it changes. Also look for any distractions in the background. Choose the side (a) where the light illuminates the subject best and (b) with the least distracting background. This is the process of getting in the ballpark.

If the subject-level angle doesn’t work, try the same four sides but this time looking up or down at your subject from 45 degrees. Find the side that works best and the general camera angle.

Once you’ve found a side that works, review the edges of your frame. Check if anything in the background distracts from your specific subject. If so, then it means to move slightly left, right, forward, or backward to fine tune your camera angle. Likewise, it might mean to get closer or further away, or to zoom in or out.

It’s this slight zooming in or out, moving left or right, or up or down that refines your camera angle.


Refine your angle: Look at the how your subject is lit

Light creates shadows. Those shadows help define shape.

Compare the two above images. Which is better? Does the shape of the subject look better from one side?


Refine your angle: Does the background enhance your subject?

Moving around your subject can create two completely different images. But what happens to the background as you move — does the background enhance or distract from the subject?

Critique the above images. Which do you prefer and what would you change, if anything?


Refine your angle: Get closer

Are there distractions in the background that draw your eye away from your intended subject? If yes, move closer to isolate your subject to push the distractions out of frame.

Critique the above right image. Are there any distractions? Did I get too close and make the shot feel too tight, or does it feel just right? What would you change, if anything?


Refine your angle: Move further away

Sometimes your shot might feel a bit awkward because the angle just isn’t working. If you’ve already tried moving left and right, now try moving further away. By including a wee bit more in your image you can create extra context for your scene. Moving further away also solves the problem if your shot feels too tight.

Critique the above images. Which do you prefer and why? What would you change, if anything?


Refine your angle: Zoom in

In this example I stood in the loft above the bathroom and shot straight down into the scene. The overview image (above left) wasn’t as interesting as I’d hoped, so I iterated on the top-down camera angle by zooming in (image above right). By zooming-in I found a detail shot waiting for me within the scene.

Critique the above images. Is the light illuminating the subject enough to draw your eye there? Is there anything in the background distracting from the subject?


Refine your angle: Zoom in and move further away

Sometimes getting close to your subject works, but moving further away and zooming in creates a different look. Zooming in also cleans up extra clutter in the background. That’s because the field of view is narrower zoomed in than when zoomed out.

For the image above right, I moved one step further away and zoomed in, but imagine if I had stepped slightly to the right to get the entire head of the children’s toy against the white wall. Then the white text on the black background would no longer be directly behind the toy’s head, distracting from the subject.

Compare the above images. What could be better? What would you do differently?

. . .

(This was a quick peek into how instructor Brit Hammer finds great images. Learn more when you sign up for Photography Essentials.)


Instructor: Brit Hammer

In Photography Essentials you’ll learn the techniques Brit uses so you can arrive at your own great images quickly and easily. With a bit of practice, they will become second nature to you!

Everything is explained simply and clearly.

We’ll work on one essential aspect at a time, broken down into parts like building blocks. By the end of the course the pieces will be put back together again so it all makes sense.

This course is for both beginners as well as experienced photographers desiring consistently great shots.


What students say about Brit’s teaching:

“I’ve taken many classes. With the way Brit taught and explained things, I finally said, ‘I get it’. She made me enjoy taking photographs.”

“I have taken quite a few courses offered by BPSOP and learned so much from each one of them. All of your teachers are stellar. Brit Hammer’s class and method of critiquing took me to another level, and I am so appreciative. The video format and her commitment and energy she puts into her students’ work is inspiring and makes you want to work that much harder to utilize her suggestions for improving your photographs.” – Patricia Tedeschi – Galarneau (Celebrate Your Life in Beautiful Images)

Quick Photo Tip: Turn Your Photo Upside Down

Closing in on fifty years of taking pictures, I can turn the composition I’ve created in the viewfinder upside-down in my mind, without having to physically rotate my  camera to see my photo inverted on the display. So, you’re probably asking yourself why in the world would I want to do this? To make sure my photograph has balance, either symmetrical (formal) or asymmetrical (informal).

Okay, have you ever looked at one of your images and for some reason it didn’t feel quite right to you; and you weren’t sure why? One potential reason is that it wasn’t a balanced composition.

In my “Stretching Your Frame of mind” workshop I conduct around the planet, and in my online class I teach with the BPSOP, students submit photos that (hopefully) represent the assignment or the discussion of the day. In my workshops, I teach photographers how to use the Elements of Visual Design to make their photos stronger. One of the basic elements is Balance. 

Images submitted to me will often have a strong subject or a point of interest on one side, leaving the other side empty, or areas of color or light that aren’t compatible with one another. A good photograph will have an equal amount of color, shapes and areas of light and dark. Each one needs to have a certain amount of value or visual weight (mass) in relation to all the other elements in your photo, and be placed accordingly to create a sense of balance.

In my classes, I deal specifically with the balance between Negative and Positive space. If a student submits a photo that is obviously out of balance, I’ll turn their photo upside down and show it to them. Why you ask again?

Because when the student views his or her photo upside down, they’re now using a different part of their brain to process information. When they’re looking at it right side up, they’re looking at it with the right side of their brain. It’s the creative and visual side. They’re looking at the parts that make up the whole. i.e., Shape, Pattern, Texture, Form, and Color.

When I turn their photo upside down, they’re using the left side of their brain, the analytical side. They’re now looking at the whole first then putting them into a logical order and drawing a conclusion.

In other words, their image is no longer a photo that has a subject, meaning, or tells a story. It’s simply shapes, colors and areas of light and dark; it now reads only as Negative and Positive space. The student immediately sees that their photo is out of balance.

Try it yourself sometime.

-BPSOP Instructor: Joe Baraban

Joe Teaches:

Stretching Your Frame of Mind I 

Stretching Your Frame of Mind II

Backlight & Silhouettes

There was a time on Inle Lake, Myanmar where the fishermen really did use cone-shaped nets you and where they did in fact move around their long narrow boats in a somewhat acrobatic fashion, but today that ‘old way’ of fishing has been exchanged for the much wider cast of the gill net.

Yet, a number of the ‘old guard’ anticipate the afternoon arrival of tourists like my students and myself, and as the sun starts to set, they put themselves in a position to ‘perform’ and near sunset the performance takes on a more hurried performance, and soon we are witness to a crescendo of movements that are mindful of a ballet performance.

While seated in our long boat, my students and myself, jockey for position, backs bent over and arms outstretched with cameras in hand near the waters edge. We are also afforded the opportunity to direct our subjects in so far as requesting them to row closer, or move left or right or lean back or forward.

Shooting them against the strong backlight of the sun results in countless silhouettes, due to the rapid fire of our cameras motor drive, (CH) and as they move about we are afforded numerous starbursts, as the sun peaks out from behind their dance, starbursts that are made possible because we are using F/22.

And finally, the sun still has 25 minutes before it sets behind the mountains, and there is minimal color in the sky, so how did I capture the GOLDEN SUNSET light, 25 minutes BEFORE the golden sunset light appears? I set my WB to 10,000K and voila, the GOLDEN SUNSET light magically appeared. You keep shooting!

NikonD500, Nikkor 18-300mm, F/22@1/320 sec. 200 ISO…(extra tip: DO NOT USE ANY FILTERS, NOT EVEN UV HAZE/SKYLIGHT FILTERS as this will risk lens flare when shooting into the sun.)

You Keep Shooting,

-BPSOP Founder – Bryan F Peterson

Bryan Teaches:

Understanding Exposure & Your DSLR

Understanding Color, Seeing Color & Composing Color

Understanding Close-Up Photography

Mastering Nikon Flash Photography

The Art of Seeing

Understanding Composition

How to get the sharpest Images – From Shooting to Lightroom

Creating sharp images can be challenging for most beginner photographers.

As a landscape photography instructor, I give my students several different tools that will help them be successful and produce tack sharp images.

In this article, I cover my favorite tools in-camera, as well as the settings I use to sharpen my images in Lightroom. All of the tips I give you here assume you are shooting RAW files.


Get Friendly with Your Tripod!

Make your tripod your best friend. Tripods can be heavy and bothersome to carry around, but they are necessary if you want to create the best sharp images. Make sure your tripod is a good quality, sturdy model. The cheaper models are a waste of your money.

A tripod will help you to slow down and contemplate your composition. Then you can do a complete scan of the image frame, and consider your best aperture for the scene. At this point, it’s easy to make slight adjustments, zoom in on your focus and make sure it’s tack sharp, and check your histogram to be sure the exposure is set correctly for the scene.

Shooting Without a Tripod

In my opinion, shooting without a tripod for landscape photography isn’t the best plan to get your sharpest images. If you are shooting without a tripod, check to be sure your shutter speed is fast enough to hide any camera shake. Also check your ISO, as you can increase the ISO to give you a faster shutter speed. Be aware at higher ISO’s, camera noise can be a consideration depending on your camera. Test your camera before you go out on a shoot to see what ISOs it can shoot without creating unneeded noise.

Many of the new advanced cameras have image stabilization either built into the camera or in the lens. That can be insurance for sharp images, but be sure to watch your shutter speed. Personally, I will not hand hold an image under a shutter speed of 100. I know the cameras can handle a lower shutter speed, but for me, it’s not worth taking a chance on a blurry image if I’m in a special location. I am the happiest with images that I have taken on my tripod, and I know they are rock solid. The tripod forces me to slow down and consider the best option for each scene.

Other Things to Think About

  • Set your focus to single point 
  • Keep your camera at the lowest ISO possible for the particular scene when shooting on a tripod. 
  • Use the best lens you can for your camera. A quality lens will make all the difference for sharpness.
  • Use a remote cable or self-timer to diminish camera shake when starting the shutter
  • Use mirror lockup if available on your DSLR.

Adding sharpening within Lightroom 

When you download your images straight out of the camera, a RAW image file does not have any processing done to it. A JPEG file will have saturation, contrast, and sharpening applied in-camera. That’s why if you shoot JPEGs and RAWs, the JPEGs will often appear more appealing right out of the camera. They’re sharper, with more saturation and contrast than an unedited RAW file. If you are avoiding the last editing step of sharpening, then your images won’t turn out their best.


When you first start sharpening in Lightroom, make sure that you are looking at a contrast point on your image, zoomed into 100%. Take a look at the image and reduce the color noise by about 20% right away. It’s import to reduce noise before sharpening as you will end up sharpening any noise that’s in the picture if you don’t remove it.

The three main tools in the detail panel are the sharpening, radius and detail sliders and each image will require a different amount of each. I usually start with about 80-100 in the sharpening slider, 1 in radius, and 25 in detail. I leave the masking slider at 0 until a can preview what areas I don’t want to sharpen.

If sharpening and detail are too high, it will create a halo which means that the sharpening has added too much contrast. See the picture below. The radius controls the width of the halo. Reduce the radius slider until you don’t see the halo at all. Drag the sharpening slider to the right until it looks sharp, but not crispy. If you select the option/alt in the detail slider, it will show which edges are being sharpened in a greyscale preview. Sharpen just enough where you can barely see the outline of your subject in the image.

If you select Option + (Mac) -dragging | Alt  + (Win) -dragging in any of the Sharpening sliders in the Detail panel in Lightroom, it will display a greyscale preview of the slider’s effect. Previewing the edges of the masks (created with the Detail and Masking sliders) can be helpful in determining which option is best for the image that you’re working on. As a rule of thumb, use the Detail slider to suppress sharpening in landscape images, and use the Masking slider to suppress sharpening in portraits.  (In a portrait, you don’t want to sharpen lines or wrinkles in a face, and this preview will show you areas that you can back off on the sharpening.) And don’t forget, it is best to view an image at 100% to see the effects of sharpening (as well as noise reduction) accurately.

These tools will help with the sharpness of your images. If you need more help with your editing and organization in Lightroom, please consider taking my next Lightroom class and learn to get up to speed in 4 short weeks.

If you would like more information on how to create amazing images in Lightroom, take my next Lightroom Quick Start class here at BPSOP.

In this class, I cover the basic tools to use Lightroom as your go-to editing and organizational tool. This 4-week class covers the basics that will get you up and running quickly in an efficient way. Try our next Lightroom class and learn to use the essential program for editing and organization.

BPSOP Instructor – Holly Higbee-Jansen

HollyHolly Higbee-Jansen is photographer, trainer, blogger, and landscape photography workshop leader who enjoys teaching and the creative process. Her passions include teaching photography workshops in beautiful locations in California, Iceland, Costa Rica and the American West with her husband Mark. Holly also teaches online classes on Lightroom, Photoshop and photographic technique. Get Holly’s Free E-Book on “Landscape Photography and the Light and find out about her newest workshops at Jansen Photo

Reach Holly by email at and read her blog at

Holly Teaches:

Lightroom Quickstart


Do you want to learn to create images that show the beauty of the scene you saw when you took the photograph? Do you want to learn the other essential side of digital photography, photo editing and get up to speed quickly?

This course is designed to get you up and running FAST in this incredibly powerful program. In this two week information packed class, you will learn how to import, organize and perform simple and effective editing processes that will let you produce beautiful adjustments to your pictures.

iPhone Photography
In this class, we will introduce you to the magic of iPhone photography using several shooting and editing apps that will give you the ability to make your pictures sing in a fun and easy way. You will learn how to crop, change saturation, brightness and affect the overall look of your pictures with HDR, drama and grunge filters and other techniques. You will be amazed at the simple and effective methods.

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  • I just completed the Art of Seeing course, and I just want to tell you that this course was everything I hoped it would be. It opened my eyes to look at a scene in a new and different way than I had been previously. I can honestly say I have seen a dramatic difference in my images now than prior to taking this class. Thank you to Bryan and Chris for the lesson plan and assignments given during the class. Chris, thank you for you critiques and suggestions to a few of my images. Your critiques and suggestions were greatly appreciated. I would recommend this course to anyone looking for ways to improve their photography and take better photos. Read More
    Vincent Valentino The Art of Seeing
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