Review: Bokeh – Shallow Depth of Field in Landscape Photography

Today starts a new series inspired by an article I recently came across entitled, “If I had $1000-ish To Spend on Improving My Landscape Photography, I’d Get…” Then,  I found a list of photography equipment items that you can purchase for $1000.

I am not sure if “inspired” is the right word here because the article, in fact, made me sad and, my idea was actually born in spite of it. It made me sad because it goes against my approach to photography where I believe that equipment is secondary and the photographer, his vision and skills come first. Not to mention, there are much better ways to improve your photography than buying a new piece of hardware.

The slogan for new series is “Invest in yourself not in the equipment.”

In order to prove my point, I am challenging myself to learn something new, something incredible, each month. My goal is to find extremely useful educational resources (eBooks, tutorials, e-courses) and review it on my blog.

Here is an alternate title for today’s post: “If I had less than $20 to spend to drastically improve my landscape photography without buying any equipment, I’d Get…”


Bokeh: Creating with Shallow Depths

My first review is an eBook by Christopher O’Donnell entitled, Bokeh: Creating with Shallow Depths. O’Donnell is a landscape photographer from New England and his 120+ page eBook is part of his “The Art of Landscape Photography” series.

I have followed Chris’ photography for a while but it was not until last summer that I had the chance to connect with him after featuring his work on my blog in the post, “Top Travel Photographers Reveal Their Favorite Photo Locations Around The World – Part 2.”

In total, I featured 24 photographers, in 2 part series ( Part 1, Part 2 ), from all over the world and every one of them, without exception, is an amazing artist. However, Chris has the most unique and distinguished style as it is impossible to mistake his photography for another artist’s work.

Before I read his book, I assumed that his unique style and his approach to landscape photography were simply part of his natural talent. This, in fact, is far from reality. I discovered that his style took a long time to develop through the extensive process of studying the work of others and experimenting on his own.

The take-away point here is that you can find a happy balance between following the instructions of other photographers and developing your own style – it’s part of the learning process. Often, the road taken by those you idolize paves the way for you to a certain point. Which direction you take your work once that road ends is up to you. Christopher O’Donnell

I thought the fact that he worked diligently to develop his personal style was inspiring.  It offers us a blueprint on how to develop our own unique styles using the art of others as inspiration.


What I like most about this book is how Chris managed to strike the perfect balance between the theory behind his technique and practical, actionable teachings.


The Theory

In the first part of the book, Chris explains the foundation of bokeh.

Bokeh is not just having a shallow depth of field – or a blurred background/foreground – it is the quality of the blur… an image with good bokeh is one that has a lot of variations in shapes, color, and texture. Christopher O’Donnell

We learn:

  • How space between elements of the composition affect depth of files and, as result, the quality of bokeh.
  • How direct and overcast light changes the effect of bokeh.
  • How changes in the focal length  manipulate bokeh

The Theory


The Practice

The second part of the book is purely practical.

When I first approach a scene that catches my eye, I start to look for interesting focal points: a rock with texture, an isolated flower, a stray autumn leaf – anything that I can potentially build my image around. Christopher O’Donnell

We learn:

  • How to approach a landscape scene and create bokeh-rich composition
  • How to choose the right lens
  • How to find the best light
  • The best way to use a tripod
  • Tips on how to achieve the proper focus
  • How to incorporate long exposure with extremely shallow depths of field

The Practice


Case Studies

The last part of the book contains the case studies of Chris’s most popular portfolio items. He provides detailed explanations of his creative process as well the technical aspects of each image.

The portfolio section can help bridge the gap between your vision and your creation by explaining how I approached each of my bokeh images. By reading about my camera workflow, you can learn how to critically analyze a scene and see the in-the-field application of the methods described in this eBook. Christopher O’Donnell

Case Studies



This book is an amazing opportunity for us to learn something very unique. By reading and learning from Chris, we can incorporate his techniques into our own style, making it more distinctive and original.


How to Get a Copy

The eBook comes in PDF format that can be read on computers, phones and tablets. If you are not satisfied with Bokeh: Creating with Shallow Depths, Christopher will gladly refund your money within 30 days – no questions asked.

You can download it directly from Christopher O’Donnell’s website.


Garrapata State Park Shore (California)

Garrapata State Park is another iconic location along the California State Route 1 in the Big Sur area. It is easily accessible from the road with only a short hike to the shore. For some strange reason, there are no signs along Route 1 and it is easy to miss it if you are not looking for it.

Over the years I developed a system for my travels to ensure that sure I do not miss spots like Garrapata Beach. For every single trip, I create a custom Google Map and  set all the locations I plan to visit as the markers, including short description for each with information on what to look for and what to photograph, all of which I collect during my research phase. Plus, I duplicate the same information to Evernote in the event that I do not have access to my maps, and I save it locally to my Nexus 5.

Perfect Effects 9

I continue to discover new features in Perfect Effects 9 from onOne Software. So far I like it a lot. I think Perfect Effects 9 will be essential part of my post processing workflow.

Travel Photography Blog - California. Big Sur. Garrapata State Park

California. Big Sur. Garrapata State Park
Loc: 36.45381, -121.92597


Deconstructing Featured Photo

Travel Photography Blog: 3 Bracketed Shots ( -1,  0, +1 ) [Read more...]

Winter Reflective Symmetry (Montreal)

Yesterday, we had the first real snow in Montreal; today is the first time this season that the temperature has been below freezing the entire day. Winter is here even if it is only November.

I am looking through my Lightroom catalog, reflecting on last winter, which was probably the coldest and longest winter I’ve ever experienced in my life. I found a few interesting photos from last year that triggered some memories.

Because of the very cold weather, the rivers and lakes were frozen solid by the end of November. However, due to the complete lack of snow and wind, they looked more like ice rinks with their perfectly flat and reflective surfaces. I am not sure if it was safe to skate or not but with the clouds reflecting on the ice it looked quite unique and beautiful.

This view lasted only 2 or 3 days until we had our first snowfall and the river was then covered with snow until spring.

Experimenting with Perfect Effects 9

I am experimenting with the brand new Perfect Effects 9 from onOne Software and I really like what I see. There are some unique features that are brand new to version 9. So far my favorite one is the functionality where you can protect the highlights and/or shadows of the photo after applying various effects. I find it priceless.

Travel Photography Blog - Canada. Montreal. Lachine Marina

Canada. Montreal. Lachine Marina
Loc: 37.736900, -119.599979


Deconstructing Featured Photo

Travel Photography Blog: 3 Bracketed Shots ( -1,  0, +1 ) [Read more...]

Why Starting a Photography Blog is Crucial for any Photographer

I strongly believe that any photographer, or any artist for that matter, will benefit from starting a blog. The era of photography websites are over as no one needs a static online presence. Every artist needs a fluid and evolving organism that can reflect his or her personality while simultaneously working to promote his or her talent.

Blogging evolved from online diaries into large self-publishing platform that can be customized and molded depending on one’s goals (i.e. self-promotion, sales, clients, etc.) or activities (i.e. travel photography, wedding photography, photography education).

Regardless if you are a professional photographer, an aspiring novice or an enthusiast with a big dream, blogging is the best tool to assist in growing as an artist as well as establishing and promoting your personal brand.

Here are the main reasons why, as an artist, you need a blog.

Blogging will help you get discovered

Photographers communicate through a visual medium – photography. However, visual language is not enough to market our talents in the online world. Even I strongly believe that a picture is worth a thousand words but somehow Google was not informed of this fact. The simple truth is that you need a thousand words in order for people to find your art online. [Read more...]

Red Rocks of the Desert (Nevada)

Today I cannot pinpoint the exact location where I took this photo but it was somewhere in the deserts of Nevada between the Valley of Fire and the Hoover Dam. After visiting the Valley of Fire for a short while, I decided against taking Interstate 15 to Las Vegas. Instead, I took Route 167 that runs along Lake Mead and the Colorado River all the way to the Hoover Dam.

It was my first drive through the deserts of Nevada and I was not quite sure what to expect. I did not have any specific plans on what to photograph since that was the “transitional” day of my trip to the Southwest (US).  The only plan for that day was to drive from Zion National Park to Las Vegas and get ready for the last leg of my trip to Los Angeles.

While driving along Lake Mead, the landscape was changing constantly and, somewhere in the middle of my drive, I found myself in a valley full of rocks with unusual shapes and colors.

I spent at least an hour next to the red rock featured in my photo, resting and reflecting on my trip. I realized that only 24 hours earlier I was driving through the snow storm at Bryce Canyon and now I was having a picnic in the unbearable heat of the desert.

Travel Photography Blog - Nevada. Northshore Road

Nevada. Northshore Road
Loc: 36.233199, -114.566386

[Read more...]

Point Lobos Sea Lion Point Trail (California)

Productivity and personal efficiency are very popular topics these days. The Pareto Principle is the cornerstone in achieving maximum efficiency in your everyday life. The Pareto Principle states that 20% of your efforts create 80% of the result. The goal is to identify those 20% and concentrate your activities around it.

If I apply the Pareto Principle to my coastal drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco, the Point Lobos would represent the 20% that was responsible for the 80% of the results. The day I visited Point Lobos was the first time I managed to fill both of my 32 GB memory cards in one day and I had to hike back to my car to copy photos from the SD cards to my laptop and, only then, continued hiking and shooting.

The day I spent at Point Lobos was by far the most rewarding and successful day of my photography career. The number of “keepers” I had that day is astonishing.

Travel Photography Blog - California. Point Lobos State Reserve. Sea Lion Point Trail

California. Point Lobos State Reserve. Sea Lion Point Trail
Loc: 36.518433, -121.952518


Deconstructing Featured Photo

Travel Photography Blog: 4 Bracketed Shots (-2; -1;  0; +1 ) [Read more...]

Inspirations: PATAGONIA – 34 Best of Travel and Landscape Photographs

Today’s theme for inspiration is PATAGONIA. I’ve been fantasizing about visiting Patagonia since I was a child while reading novels by Jules Verne and imagining myself having an adventure with the children of captain Grant. Now I have real opportunity to fulfill my childhood dreams by traveling to Patagonia as a photographer. These days Patagonia, Iceland and Norway are at the top of my personal list of locations to visit.



[Read more...]

Perfect Picnic Spot in Yosemite (California)

The advantage of visiting Yosemite in the beginning of May is that you can avoid high season crowds; however, the weather is quite unpredictable this time of year.

The weather was my main concern when I was planning my one-day trip to Yosemite from San Francisco. According to the research I performed, the road through the mountains can be completely closed due to the snow or you could be forced to use the chains on your car tires when passing the mountain crossings. Neither scenarios resonated well with me.

Luck was on our side on the day we went to Yosemite. The weather was unusually warm and sunny. It was 20-24oC in the valley with not too many people around.

I took featured photos while we were walking along the Merced River, trying to find the most beautiful and secluded spot for a mid-day picnic. When I saw the tiny sandy island in the middle of the stream, I knew right away it was exactly the spot we were looking for.

It was challenging to get there and the water was extremely cold but in the end it was totally worth it.

Travel Photography Blog - California. Yosemite National Park. Merced River

37.736900, -119.599979


Deconstructing Featured Photo

Travel Photography Blog: 3 Bracketed Shots ( -1,  0, +1 ) [Read more...]

08. Before & After: Natural Looking HDR Photography with HDR Expose

A few months ago, I discovered and started using a new HDR tool that I later reviewed on my blog in an article entitled,  HDR Expose 3 – King of Natural Looking HDR. Many of my readers expressed interest in this tool and, as a result, I am releasing a step by step tutorial on how to achieve natural looking HDR images using HDR Expose.

If you want to follow along, please download the fully functional HDR Expose 3 30 day trial here and, in the event you decide to purchase the full version, please use the coupon code PHOTOTRACES at the checkout to receive 10% off.

Make sure you install it as a plug-in for Adobe Lightroom and not as a standalone application.

You will learn following:

  • How to prepare (preprocess) bracketed images before merging them for HDR
  • How to use HDR Expose 3 plugin in Lightroom
  • How to align multiple images in HDR Expose 3
  • How to tone map bracketed photos for HDR
  • How to bring HDR image back to Lightroom
  • How to achieve the desired look in Lightroom and Photoshop

Below you can find my Before&After Widget which illustrates 11 editing steps of my workflow. By clicking through numbers (orange squares) you can see how image transforms from step 1 (original raw image) to step 11 (final published photo).

Before & After Widget

Also, I’ve included the source files with this post (original RAW files, layered Photoshop file (PSD), and Lightroom preset). You can download all files at the end of the post.


Step 1. Original Image

For today’s tutorial I selected photos I took in Montreal from the Jacques Cartier Bridge, the tallest bridge in the city. I originally took 5 bracketed shots but +2EV was too overexposed and soft. In my previous post I discussed the challenges of shooting multiple exposures from the bridge.

Below are 4 bracketed shots (-2, -1, 0, +1) I used to tone map HDR image.

[Read more...]