Putting “It’s the Photographer, Not the Camera” Expression to Test

All of us probably know the expression “It’s the photographer, not the camera” but somehow the most common question any photographer is asked: ” What camera do you use?”

To prove the point that it is the photographer who is responsible for great photography and not the camera the funny guys from DigitalRev came up with the concept of Cheap Camera Challenge where they challenge world-renowned photographers to use the cheapest cameras they could find.

In the featured video Lara Jade, a famous fashion photographer was challenged to use The An Pan Man 0.3 megapixels camera. Let’s see together what results she managed to achieve.


In the following video the France-Presse photojournalist, Alex Ogle was forced to use paper camera from Paper Shoot on the streets of Honk Kong.


And finally, fine art photographer Harold de Puymorin takes the 3.1-megapixel Vivitar point-and-shoot to its limits with his creative vision.

Complete HDR Workflow in Lightroom, Photomatix and Photoshop

The featured photo of the sunset at Moonstone Beach in California was one of the most popular photos on this blog in the last 12 months. I also was asked on many occasions about the process of shooting and editing this particular shot. I decided to put together step by step visual guide of my typical HDR workflow when I use Photomatix to merge multiple photos to HDR.

Sunset at Moonstone Beach (California)

This is the spot I always plan to visit when I drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco along California Route 1. It is located right in the middle of the coastal drive, next to the San Simeon State Park

HDR Photography Workflow in Lightroom and Photomatix

California. Moonstone Beach
Loc: 35°35’5″ N 121°7’21” W

This is where I normally stay for the night. I plan my schedule so I can check in to the motel an hour before the sunset, and then I take only my tripod and camera and walk along Moonstone Drive in the sunset hours. This spot serves as the final point of my travel photography sunset hike, and where I stay until the sun completely submerges into the ocean.


This is the ultimate location for HDR Photography; shooting into the sun as it is setting into the ocean, with some colorful textures in the foreground.

This is when HDR shines.

The shooting part was easy. First, I made sure I had an interesting composition and then I took 5 bracketed shots on a tripod with 1EV intervals (-2; -1, 0, +1, +2). [Read more…]

Niagara Falls After the Storm (Canada)

The Niagara Falls is a 6-hour drive from Montreal. It was middle of summer and for the entire drive, the weather was awful. The rain started at least 10 times. When I was approaching Niagra Falls it became even worse; it was pouring hard and the low dark clouds made me feel if it was twilight time already.

I completely gave up on the idea of taking any photos that afternoon and I decided to stay in my hotel room and concentrate on some blog writing instead. And then, in a matter of minutes, the rain stopped and the sun started to blast through the openings.

I knew it was the perfect opportunity. I grabbed my gear and ran to the falls. That was the day when I took my best photos of Niagara Falls.

Canada. Ontario. Niagara Falls.
Loc: 43.09094, -79.06899

Shooting & Processing

I took 3 bracketed shots on a tripod (-1, 0, +1). I could see that the light was not too dynamic because the setting sun was covered with the clouds, but I took 3 brackets anyway, just in case.

I used single RAW image editing in Lightroom. I described the process in The Minimalist Guide to Lightroom Editing.

First I applied Lightroom preset Point Lobos from my Landscape Collection and later I used ToolKit to adjust exposure mostly because the photo was a bit underexposed.

The Lightroom Preset Editing Formula: Point Lobos (1, 9, 21, 24, 30, 40)

Also, I added the Graduated Filter to emphasize the sunset colors in the sky (right side). [Read more…]

Composition: Rule of Thirds in Photography

The composition probably is the most difficult skill to master in photography and longest to learn. The main issue with the process of learning the composition is its subjectivity, everything is open for the interpretation. In many cases, there is no right or wrong, everything is relative.

It is really important to have a structure or a guideline when learning something complex. This is the reason the rule of thirds is the most important concept when learning the composition in photography. It brings the structure the entire process.

If you ask 10 people to define the rule of thirds you probably get 10 different versions. Luckily we have Joshua Cripps who brilliantly described the rule of thirds in 3 minutes. This the best explanation of the rule of thirds I’ve ever seen.

Tropical Sunrise at East Coast of O’ahu (Hawaii)

That was probably the most spectacular sunrise I got to witness in my life. Of course, the weather and the location played a big part in it. Only two days before I took the featured photo I was in freezing Montreal where the temperature was below -20°C for 3 weeks in a row and now, after short 12-hour flight, I was in the tropics hiking the volcanos and witnessing sun rising over the Pacific Ocean.

Hawaii. O’ahu
Loc: 21.306406, -157.651981


When I analyzed the scene before shooting, I could see the very dark areas below me, the town was shaded by the mountain. At the same time, despite the sky was being mostly covered by thick clouds, I could see a few extremely bright spots above the horizon. It made me change the exposure bracketing intervals from 1EV to 2EV to cover the entire dynamic range of the scene.

I took 3 bracketed shots with 2EV intervals (-2, 0, +2) on a tripod standing on top of Lanikai Pillbox Trail[Read more…]

Cathedral of Marie-Reine-du-Monde (Montreal)

The featured photo is the perfect reflection of Montreal, where you can find layers of different generations and epochs. The focal point of this shot is 19th century Cathedral of Marie-Reine-du-Monde which is contrasting extremely well in style, colors and shapes with the brand new modern office building in the background.

Canada. Montreal. University and Belmont street
Loc: 45.501095, -73.566260

Shooting + Processing

It was a warm October day in Montreal and I went to Old Port with the camera hunting for the city shots. On my way back to the train station while walking along University Street I spotted this layered view of Cathedral of Marie-Reine-du-Monde. I took a few shots hand-held with Canon 60D and I was on my way to the next discovery.

The processing was simple and straightforward. I used Rapid Lightroom Preset-Based Editing (read my tutorial here), applying Sunblast preset from Cross Processed Collection and adjusting the contrast and the clarity with the ToolKit. [Read more…]

The Minimalist Guide to Editing Family and Vacation Photos in Lightroom

I take and edit a lot of photos. I have over 100,000 images in my Lightroom Catalogue. Over the years, I became more efficient in organizing and editing. Now, when I return from a long photography trip with 4,000 new photos, it does not scare me at all because I can organize and edit them relatively quickly in Lightroom.

But, one aspect of photography with which I struggled for a long time was family photography. Every time I returned from family vacation, I was always behind on my work and family photos were never the priority. Plus, the fact that family photos typically never have a hard deadline was also of no help. The photos often stayed on my travel hard drive for weeks or even months, which did not go over well with my wife and the rest of the family. My wife kept calling me a “shoemaker without shoes” (Russian idiom). [Read more…]

The Very Best Of Photography Articles and Tutorials – July 2015

In the beginning of 2015 I decided to change the format of my weekly newsletter. Instead of featuring only news from Phototraces.com, I also started to feature the best photography related content I came across in the previous 7 days.

The change was triggered by the realization that quality content is not easy to find in an enormous amount of junk.

Below is the extract from my July 2015 weekly newsletters and it represents the best photography content according to me!

Please subscribe to my newsletter and receive weekly email with the amazing photography, tutorials and inspirational articles from around the web.

The Very Best Of Photography Articles and Tutorials from Around the Web


8 Pro Photographers Share the Best Advice They Ever Got
Last week I reached out to all 8 pros—Elia Locardi, Benjamin Von Wong, Colby Brown, Michael Fletcher, Tony Hewitt, Nick Rains, Varina Patel, and Jay Patel—and asked them to share the best piece of advice they were ever given. Here is what they told me.

Photographer Recovers $15K in Stolen Gear Thanks to EXIF Copyright Info
If your camera lets you automatically add copyright EXIF metadata to every photo you take, you should do it: it could help you recover your gear if it ever gets stolen.

Selfiology: the Story of the Selfie
Selfies seem to have become just another part of life. Over time the wonderment about people striking the strangest of poses in front of their telephones has vanished. Younger generations will even find themselves in selfies that exceed their memory. We have simply learned to see upon the selfie as a part of modern day society and the debate surrounding it slowly fades away.



13 Exercises for Photographers That Can Help Jump-Start Creativity
Like the world’s tidal waters, photographic creativity ebbs and flows for many of us. Sometimes creativity can use a jump-start, an artificial method to get the photographer to start looking at the world in a new way in order to facilitate, restart, refine, or improve your photography. [Read more…]

Topaz Software Review – How I use Topaz Plugins

Before I begin, if you know what TopazLab product you want and are here for the Topaz Labs discount code, use PHOTOTRACES at the checkout to get 15% off any Topaz plugin or complete Topaz Labs bundle at Topaz Website.

Topaz Software Review

If you follow my blog, you know that I am pretty open about my editing as I reveal the processing steps for almost every photo I publish. You also probably noticed that every photo posted on this blog was edited, at some point, with at least one or two Topaz Labs plugins.

Not surprisingly, two of the most common questions my readers ask me about the Topaz products are: “What plugin should I incorporate in my editing workflow and when do I use it?”

I have to admit that Topaz Labs has one of the most confusing structures of its products. They have a total of 16 different plugins and, in most cases, their functions overlap with each other. Needless to say, it took me a long time to figure out what product to use and when.

Do not get me wrong; I love and value the Topaz Plugins, but I wish that instead of 16 products they had three or four, combining different plugins together.

But, I guess a very confusing product structure is making a very successful business model.

In order to help photographers who are just starting to use Topaz software, I have listed the plugins I use in the order of importance for my photography. [Read more…]

Sunset At South Shore of O’ahu (Hawaii)

I already featured photo I took almost from the exactly the same spot while visiting Hawaii (Sunrise Over South Shore of O’ahu). The big difference though between two shots is the photo below I took at the sunset and the previously published shot was taken at sunrise.

It is not often you came across the place which is perfect for both sunset and sunrise photography. Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail on the O’ahu island of Hawaii is one of those amazing spots.

Hawaii. O’ahu Island. Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail
Loc: 21.304722, -157.651389


This is the extreme example of sunset photography. I was shooting directly into the sun, but it was already partly shielded by the Koko Head Mountain making the shadows of the scene very dark. The light of the scene was very dynamic. When I checked the dynamic range of the HDR image during the processing phase, the value was 19.3 stops.

Here are some dynamic range values for you to compare:

  • Scene: 19.3 stops
  • Human eye can see: up to 14 stops of light
  • Sony a6000 sensor: 11.4 stops
  • Computer monitor: 8 stops

The human eye is considered to be the best and the most sophisticated optical device, but even a human eye can not see the entire range of the light here.

This was the perfect scenario to use HDR photography and I took 3 bracketed shots with 2EV intervals (-2, 0, +2) on a tripod. [Read more…]