Color of Light

Star Trail image

Star Trails shot with a tungsten balance to bring out the blue in the stars.

One of the four properties of light is color. To evaluate color it has to be divided into 2 rolls overall and local. Overall is the color balance of the image and local is the individual colors of objects in the image.

In the past color balance of an image was best considered and corrected at the time of shooting, today in the digital world we shoot RAW and set the color balance in post processing. Colors are considered balanced when we have a lack of color influence in our greys, whites and blacks. When we have a strong known color influence in our image it would be wrong to bring our balance to neutral. A good example of this is a sunset. Local color can add a lot of impact to your image. Adding color is used for effect but overall color shifts don’t always work well so local controlled application is much more effective. Shifts in color is not the only thing we should consider as today we have control over saturation and vibrance for those colors that have low saturation. Local color is also responsible for contrast  between colors which is quite striking at times. If you are in the process of making a black and white image you need to look at the brightness values of the colors of your image very closely as many are fooled by color contrast. Example a red object next to a blue could have the same or close value of grey when the image is converted to black and white.

It is important to understand colors and their relationship to each other to effectively work on images. For example the primary additive colors are Red, Green and Blue. These are used in TVs and monitors to produce full color images. The primary subtractive colors are Cyan, Magenta and Yellow and these are used in printing presses, printers and when printing in the darkroom. Neither one of these color models cover the whole spectrum of our vision. These two color models are related and on opposite sides of the color wheel. Cyan is the opposite of Red, Magenta is the opposite of Green and Yellow is the opposite of Blue.

When evaluating color balance we use color temperature to describe at what point color is balanced. Color temperature uses the Kelvin scale. When a black body is heated it changes color much like the flame in a fire-place. The hottest part of the flame is blue and the colder parts are red. It is this change between red and blue that’s considered in color temperature. Green is not considered when it comes to color temperature but you do need to pay attention to the green magenta colors. A few examples of color temperature would be daylight which changes throughout the day but considered to be 5400 degrees Kelvin, tungsten light 3200 Kelvin and household incandescent lights are about 2800 Kelvin. Some light sources have an incomplete light spectrum in other words they have holes and are comprised of missing or uneven colors. This type of light source can not really be assigned a color temperature. A good example is a fluorescent tube which for the most part fall into this category of incomplete spectrum. There are fluorescent lights made for photography that work fine but they are not the everyday lights and tubes you find at the local hardware store.

Our eyes are not good at judging color but do fair at overall color balance. When color was critical at the camera we used to use color meters but today corrections are made mostly in the post process. I hope you enjoyed this article. any questions or observations feel free to comment and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss a post. Until next time “Keep on Shooting”

My Landscape Camera Settings

Sand dune image

The mesquite dunes at sunset in death valley national park is a grand sight.

My Landscape camera settings may differ from yours and that is OK nothing is gospel when it come to your choice of camera settings. With that said you should have a reason for your settings, I do for mine. The settings you use have long reaching ramifications on your choice of camera, processing , artistic style, and your physical abilities as well as many other things. My camera setting are mine for what I do and do change when needed. First of all I am a landscape shooter 90% of the time but I come from a 35 year commercial shooting background with 25 years shooting primarily 4×5 film. I have a great love for imaging and after retiring from commercial work I have started to pursue landscape photography for which I have a true love. You will see that I like being in control of my image so I control the camera. I shoot RAW as that gives me the most possible options with the largest tonal range and the highest quality.

  • Focus: I use manual almost all the time. The exception is when I have a fast moving object  that I need to focus on. I chose a camera with peaking and a good focus assist.
  • Mode: Aperture Priority for general shooting and I make adjustments using exposure compensation. I select an f-stop to control the depth of field in my image. I switch to manual for focus stacking and panorama images so nothing will change during multiple exposures.
  • ISO: This is set at 100 the native ISO of my camera. This offers the largest tonal range with the lowest noise. I do switch to a higher ISO to stop action, when light is very low or for shooting star fields.
  • White Balance: I choose a white balance rather than letting the camera choose. This is a good practice to get into and a must for multiple exposures, focus stacking and panoramas. Remember I shoot raw so all can change later but if you use AWB the camera could change when you move the camera for a panorama.
  • Bracketing: Yes I bracket but most the time only use the center exposure. I prefer to work with one image but with 32 bit HDR or luminosity masks I do combine images if the tonal range exceeds what I can capture in a single exposure. Usually I bracket 2 stops up and down.
  • Tripod and Lens Hood: Yes a must if you want sharp color rich images.
  • Creative Styles: Nikon calls this Picture control system, Canon calls it picture styles and Sony creative styles the name doesn’t matter but this controls the .jpg rendering and the histogram which I use to judge my exposure. The .jpg is a little short on tonal range compared to what the camera has to offer so I go into the Styles and turn the contrast all the way down allowing me to see more of the captured tonal range on the screen and increases the tonal range the histogram sees. This is one of the single most important things I do in my landscape photography and it does nothing to the raw image it only lets my camera evaluation be better.
  • f-stops: I test my lenses to find out where they are the sharpest and what the acceptable range of use is. Wide open and stopped all the way down is seldom good even on the best of lenses. I use focus stacking to keep sharpness all the way through an image if desired. I recommend finding the sweet spot of your lens and using it.

Well that is how and why I set my camera up the way I do. It also dictates what I look for when choosing a camera. We all learn from others and I would be glad to hear what your landscape setting are and why. Hopefully you could teach me. Any and all questions are welcome.

Quantity Property of Light

cactus growing out of a rock

soft light from the blue sky was very fitting for this cactus growing out of a rock.

The first Property of light is Quantity or amount which we use the term brightness to describe. Our eyes see a larger range of brightness then we can reproduce in photography so we need to compress the brightness. In the matter of brightness our eyes are a very poor judge so we use an exposure meter. We need not only consider the brightness but the surface that the light is illuminating. A noontime meter reading on a sandy beach may lead to underexposure as the sand will be very light and the meter has no way of knowing you are metering such a bright object. Todays cameras have histograms which when used right you can easily correct your exposures.  As photographers we look at collective brightness as we usually have multiple light sources and reflected light. A good example of this is outdoors on a sunny day we have Sunlight and in the shadows light from reflections and the blue sky. Depending on the brightness of the sources of illumination we will have an overall contrast to our photographic subject. Brightness also controls the mood and feeling of an image. Some images are very bright or high key and others dark and mysterious. The important thing is that you get the right amount of light in relation to your exposure.

As photographers we have controls to help us deal with the brightness of light. To start with at the camera we have 3 adjustments aperture (f/stop) shutter speed and sensitivity (ISO) we can also do multiple exposures and combine them later using masks or HDR to compress the range of light. With lighting we can use reflectors and diffusers and if using artificial light we can also control the lights using modifiers or controlling the location or power of the lights.

Knowledge of how light behaves with distance is also important. The inverse Square Law states “The intensity of Brightness is proportional to the inverse square of the distance from the light source.” This is the reason studio and outdoor photographers sometimes have problems switching environments. Simply stated the law says if you double the distance of your light from the subject you lose 2 f/stops of light. Because this is based on the inverse square the square root of 2 equals 1.4 so to drop the light in half (-1 f/stop) move the light back 1.4 times the light to subject distance. To double the light(+1 f/stop) move it towards the subject .7 of the original distance. Example: Your light is 10 foot from your subject. If you need 1 f/stop more light move it in to 7 foot or if you need one f/stop less light move it to 14 foot. This is why indoor photographers sometimes work with their light very close to the subject to take advantage of rapid falloff of light. Outdoor photographers light source is most often the sun which is 93 million miles distant so it is very hard to move enough to affect the brightness.

With all that said we have to keep in mind the as photographers we only interpret the brightness quality of light and will almost never be able to duplicate it. Hope you enjoyed this basic information on the Quantity property of light.

Understanding Light

Star field with jumbo rocks in Joshua Tree National Park

The Light shines from thousands of stars in Joshua Tree National Park. When I saw the milky way that night I grabbed a flashlight and camera and started to capture that wonderful sight.


Light is easy to understand once you get organized. We need only six terms to talk about light plus light has only four simple properties. The terms we use to talk about light are:

  • Specular
  • Diffuse
  • Color
  • Direction
  • Brightness
  • Contrast

The four properties of light and the terms used for each are:

  • Quality (Specular or diffuse)
  • Quantity (Brightness)
  • Color (Color)
  • Direction (Direction)

Contrast is a product of all four properties. So with only 4 properties to light is easy to analyze and understand light. Look around and see if you can analyze the light that is in front of you right now. In the room that I am in the light is coming from the left (direction) through 2 windows. One window has a shade which is diffusing the sunlight that is filling the room (Quality, Color). The other window has some direct sunlight streaming in giving great texture to everything it touches and it is very bright. (Direction, Color, Quality and Quantity). It turns out not to be very hard to analyze light, all you need to do is think about it using the four properties.

I will write a few articles and make a few videos on the properties of light and the things we can do to control them. Something like this could become a whole book on photography but I will try to have restraint. I Promise.

Busting Creative Block

Yucca and Hole

Have you ever gone out to make some images and feel the creative block and can not get started? Well you are not alone it happens to all of us. The best thing to do is start shooting and ignore the thoughts that the light is not right or the subject is not the best at this time or for that matter any other reason keeping you from pushing the button. Start looking at shapes and colors move in different directions look in the shadows and then isolate one thing that interests you. Once you have found it start thinking what is it that makes this interesting is it the shape or its relationship to the environment once you figure that out start looking how to frame and capture. It does not matter if this will be your greatest shot ever just capture the image. Now if the shot you took felt right move on but if you feel what you did could be better move and recompose and shoot again. Keep repeating the process until the capture feels right. With that in the bag move on to the next shot using the same procedure and soon you will be in the grove and your creative juices will be flowing. The Header photo of this post was created exactly as described and was the first image captured on a recent trip to Joshua Tree National Park. The yucca and the hole in the rock is what caught my interest then it was a matter of placement and dealing with the light and exposure. Is it a great image? No it is not but it did get my mind working and started the creative juices flowing.

Textured Colored Rock       This is the second image that caught my eye. Inspired by the color and texture of the rocks and the hollow almost like a cave this was captured. The camera here is at an angle but that does not matter it is the image that came easier than the first.
Rocks of Color
This is the third image. I was way to the right and very far back when I saw the ruddy rocks in the sun near the top of the frame and I knew I was going to capture. I was now in the groove of making images. A Little walking and I found the rocks in the foreground and I made this image. Still not the best in the world but that is OK the creative juices are flowing and they did for the next several days. It is best to just start and then change and shoot again and repeat because soon the creativity will start to work for you.


The Creative Rut


I don’t know why but some people are creative and some are not. I would guess that most people have some creativity locked inside of them but most never display their real creativeness for the world to see. The reason for this is that creatives are seen as being different from the majority of people. The suppression of creativity begins about the time a child goes to school and starts to build relationships with others. The creative child in kindergarten art time is given a paper with black outlines less say maybe a flower and is given instructions to color between the lines. Later the child turns in his work of art. It has a green flower and a red stem with some added mountains and a yellow sky with a blue sun. This was not what was expected of the child and the teacher tells the student it was wrong. Teacher goes on to tell the student that his or her colors were wrong and that you cannot go outside the lines and add things. This is a true suppression of the creative mind and it is presented to the student as art. The definition of creativity is to bring something truly unique into being which is what the young child did.

The suppression of creativity continues through high school and for some way beyond especially if they are surrounded by non creative people. It takes a lot to awaken the creativity in most people and the shame is that creatives are the ones that think outside the bounds and make the great discoveries in science, design, medicine and in a great many other fields. In college I took an experimental art class open to art and performing art majors. At the second class you had to present what your experimental art project was going to be. I was the only one that was allowed to proceed with my project. All the other students want to do a painting. They did not get the idea this was an experimental art they were supposed to get out of the comfort zone and create. College art students not wanting to take a creative challenge.

When the mentally caged creative becomes older they sometimes use knowledge as a creative substitute but satisfaction is not there which sometimes leads to depression. Even creative performing artists have problems as repeat performance time and time again lacks creativity. Graphic artists fall into this category as most of their work in production after a short bout of creativity. Being creative extends far beyond the arts, engineers, scientists, architects, doctors, and business people all need creatives in their professions. Creatives are thinkers that do not follow traditional lines they think out of the box and go beyond the normal boundaries. This is how we have great discoveries.

Don’t become stuck in the non creative rut. Find an outlet for your creativity. Bring something unique into being.

Non Destructive Burning and Dodging in Photoshop


In the traditional darkroom burning and dodging was very common and used on almost every Black and White print but in color not so much as it would skew the color if applied too heavily. In the digital world it seems that we don’t burn and dodge like we did in the past. It is still a very effective tool and it comes with a high degree of control, does not affect the color, adds very little to the file size and is simple to do.

To start open an image in Photoshop and add an empty layer to the top of your layers. Change the blending mode to overlay. Select a brush and make sure that the boxes at the bottom of the tool pallet are black and white with black on top if you want to burn or vise versa if you want to dodge. Size your brush for the area you want to work on and set the hardness to “0” (if you don’t know how to do this see note 1 below). In one stroke cover the area you want to dodge or burn making sure you only make one stroke. Now go to the Edit menu and select Fade Brush Tool and using the slider select the exact amount of dodge or burn you want. You can make as many dodges and burns on the same layer as you want just remember only one stroke at a time. If you don’t like your results delete the layer and start over.

Note 1: To adjust the brush on a Mac push control + option + left mouse button and slide sideways for size and up and down for hardness. On a Windows Computer ctrl + alt + right mouse button the move sideways for size and up and down for hardness.

Note 2: To toggle the black and white boxes just push “x” on the keyboard.

Hope this gives you a lot of creative control on your next post process. Please share this information with your friends. Subscribe and you will be notified of future posts. Thanks and happy imaging.

Which Camera Brand is Best-Canon, Nikon, Sony, …

image of several cameras

A collection of cameras.

To Start I am not paid by or have any association with any camera manufacturer. I will tell you what I use and why later. I wrote this article to get your thought process working on a clear path for the next time you ready to acquire a new camera. At the end I will tell you what the best camera is for you and why. No peaking. I wont be long. Let’s start with a list of things to consider when obtaining a new camera. I have listed these things in order of importance and the first 4 are the most important and you could ignore the rest if you would like to

  • Human Engineering: Does the camera have the buttons and controls placed so they are easy to use and does the camera feel good in your hands?
  • Features: Does the camera have all the features you need and are they easy to use?
  • Physical Build: Is the camera built solid with a metal frame or plastic? Does it have weather sealing if you need?
  • Lenses and accessories: Are the lenses you need available and any accessories you might need are they available?

The next 3 things need to be taken with a grain of salt.

  • Test Results: These are sometimes bias for various reasons and for the most part they sometimes are just splitting hairs. Most cameras of an equal price range are very close in quality but due very in Human Engineering and Features.
  • Other Peoples Recommendations: These often come with a lot of bias. Even from camera store salesman.
  • Advertising: This is designed to get you to buy. Most the time it is just a minor upgrade to what you already have and you will see very little difference.

My camera choices are simple when I was working (retired in Aug 2014) I used Canon 5D Mark2 and Mark3 because they tethered to the computer and the image quality was more than enough. MY personal Digital Cameras first was a Minolta 7D because kit used a CCD which rendered wonderful color and the controls that I used for my personal work were well placed and easy to use. After Sony acquired Minolta I upgraded to a A700 and added some lenses. Then the A77 and after that I decided to go full Frame. I look around and for my type of shooting I stayed with Sony and A99 was a good fit. After the A7r came out that camera better filled my need being compact and light. I am now in the process of building the A7 system. I can wait as the a lens adapter leaves no hole in my system.

Now to the best camera for you. THE BEST CAMERA FOR YOU IS THE ONE YOU HAVE RIGHT NOW. I am just as happy with the images I took with the Minolta 7D as the images from the A7r. In fact at any size below 11 x 14 you can’t tell the difference. Now you might be ready to skewer me but I do make prints much larger so I shoot the high mega Pixel camera. Now for a Myth Bust. Better cameras take better pictures is false! Instead Better Photographers make Better Pictures. Keep in mind the old masters cameras were no match for today’s cameras yet there Images hold up very well to the image of today.

It really is the Photographer not the tool.

Stages Photographers take to become Artists

Rainbow from South Ridge
In our quest to become a true artist we go through several stages. Out of every 100 people who think about committing to each stage only 10 will. We seldom think of the stages but it helps to take a look and see where we are at in this long journey to becoming an artist. Look at the steps and place yourself along the route to being an artist or maybe you will discover you have arrived at the last stage. Remember for every 100 that think about taking each step only 10 will. There are 6 steps so if you are at the 6th step you are one in a million. The Steps are as follows:

  • Step 1: Having a passionate desire to be a photographer.
  • Step 2: You start taking Images could be a cell phone or point and shoot but your true love for imaging starts here.
  • Step 3: You acquire a controllable or professional type camera so you have control over your images. You are no longer willing to accept what the camera gives you and you want the control.
  • Step 4: Now you are in the knowledge stage. This is where you learn post processing software basics in programs like Photoshop or Lightroom. You learn camera techniques, Light and Lighting and start learning composition. (just a side note don’t get trapped in the plugin mode here learn the basics first save the plugins for stage 5 or 6).
  • Stage 5: This is the never-ending development stage. Your knowledge grows and so does your vision. Your composition gets stronger you are trying all types of things with mixed results. You are sometimes amazed at your results.
  • Stage 6: You have arrived at the sixth stage. Your equipment and software are nothing but tools used to express your vision. You feel light, your captures excite you and can’t wait for post process magic to happen. You image from your heart and soul you show your feelings to the world. You no longer record what you see but instead you make what you imagine. You are a true artist because you are bringing something unique into being.

Where are you along these six steps are you that one in a million. It is a journey that we all can make. No one just gets there because they have talent everyone must take the steps which are hard work but I know you can do it. Let me know where you are. Check the subscribe box in the comments section to get notice of future posts.


1st Post

Sunrise looking at Manly Beacon from Zabriskie Point in Death Valley

This is the first Post of the new Digital John Web site. In the future there will be a regular flow of information and educational information for new and emerging photographers. I have been in the imaging field for most my life and now it is time to help others on their journey in the world of imaging. I welcome any and all comments. In the comment section you can also subscribe to update notification. If you would like information on anything photography related just place a request in the comment section. I keep almost no secrets and try to tell it how it is. Several videos are posted with more are to come. At the time of this blog one gallery, Death Valley, is active. I have included meta data with the images. I am still working on functionality and will add new galleries soon. I am first a photographer so there will be times when I am in the field for weeks but have no fear I will be working on more content. Welcome and happy imaging.

John Aydelotte