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The Real Secret to Taking Spectacular Photos

I just got this a little while ago, in large part to having read Tom Ang’s enlightening “how to win photo competitions” post – and also because I just got an email from National Geographic telling me I’m close to getting this shot published in an issue of their “your shot” issue.


It really got me thinking about what it takes to take a truly great photo and it’s actually very simple. Here’s the real secret:

Show people something they’ve never seen before

If you think back to a photo that really inspired you or moved you, it was probably a photo of something that you’ve never seen before. Or it was a photo of something you have seen – but captured in a really unique way that you’ve never seen before.

There are billions of photos out there of people posing in front of things, there are billions of photos out there of places and things – and they all eventually fade together – but what makes a photograph really spectacular is something that captures attention.

This is why I love HDR, tiltshift, fisheye shots, and anything else that’s just different from the norm. You don’t even have to go anywhere to take a spectactular shot – just look around wherever you are and DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

To help you get started thinking in the right direction, here are 10 ideas:

1. use shadows

2. get closeup

3. capture patterns

4. use long exposure

5. get low

6. blur it

blurred Ineta

7. use lots of empty space in your composition

8. use reflections

9. capture motion

10. get down, look up

And that’s not even scratching the surface – there are plenty more resources for taking unique, interesting, and creative photos.  Not often discussed, but perhaps equally important if you are planning to do this as a business is to make sure copyrights are set in place as well.  A great resource to gather information on how to do this properly is www.mydefence.ca

While I’m mentioning resources, I should say that when I established my company, I had many questions on the business side of things, since my background was on the creative side. I found a great book at garybizzo.com that really helped me with the business side so I could focus on the artistic/creative side.

Anyway, all that said,  go out there and capture something truly unique.


Photomatix Coupon Code – Free Download & 15% Discount Promo

Updated 9/23/2013

Photomatix Pro is by far my favorite program for creating and tone mapping HDR photos. It’s easy to use and gives you simple controls for getting the awesome color effects you see in all those great HDR’s, without having to open up Photoshop and knowing how to tone map by hand.

I recently got the people at HDRsoft to create a Photomatix coupon code for our readers (anyone can use it) for 15% off any of the HDR software programs:

This coupon code will work for any of these products:

  • Photomatix Pro (standalone + Lightroom plug-in)
  • Photomatix Pro Plus Bundle (standalone + plug-ins)
  • Photomatix Essentials / Light
  • Photomatix Plug-In for Apple Aperture
  • Photomatix Tone Mapping Plugin for Photoshop CS2/3/4/5/6

To get this discount applied to your order, follow these steps:

  • Go to the Photomatix  page
  • Click the buy button for the software version you need
  • In the box where it says “Coupon Code” put in: VPGo30x2013
  • Click the recalculate button
  • It will show you the special discount applied with your new price
  • Complete the rest of the order form
  • You MUST follow the Photomatix  page link in order for the discount to be applied

That should do it. To give you an example: the regular price of Photomatix Pro is $99 so with this coupon code you should be able to get it for $84.15.

Photomatix Coupon Code

Once you have Photomatix installed you can go through their short tutorial (which you can see once you launch the program). It’s pretty clear and easy to follow. Once you have a chance to experiment with your own HDR photos, you might want to join the Flickr HDR group. Hope to see you there.

Photo by Jo McClelland
Used Drop Dropper to remove background
Inserted Sky
Used Focus bug

Still in love with Perfect Photo Suite 7

Last week OnOne Software launched their Perfect Photo Suite 7 and VisualPhotoGuide.com had the privilege of reviewing the new software. If we were impressed by Perfect Photo Suite 7 last week, we’re in love with it now. See how Perfect Photo Suite 7 transformed this picture of a cockatoo in a tree.

Redefine reality
When I first discovered editing software as a child photographer, my favourite thing to do was juxtapose elements from one picture into another. I’d spend hours painstakingly cutting out my friends and inserting them into one large group shot. When I was finished, people who didn’t know each other leaned on each other and sat on each other’s shoulders. It was tedious work and although the end result impressed my family and friends, it did not fool them. Perfect Mask achieves this seamlessly.

Photo by Jo McClelland

I can’t get over how easy it was to remove the sky in this photograph, using the Keep and Drop droppers, even with the branches in the way. The branches did keep me from using the quick Remove Background button, but it was still quick and simple. OnOne Software offers a great how to video, and as you can see, the effect can be achieved in less than two minutes. Remember to double click the Magic Brush (that’s the brush with the little snowflake). I missed that step and spent many hours trying to figure out why my sky wouldn’t disappear. Once I went back and watched the video, I kicked myself for missing the step and then it was smooth sailing, and I think the picture is much more interesting with the new sky

Photo by Jo McClelland
Used Drop Dropper to remove background
Inserted Sky
Used Focus bug

Snap into focus
The round focus bug tool was the feature that I was most anxious to use. I found it even easier to utilize than the Keep and Drop features. The hardest part was picking which of my pictures to alter. This was the first cockatoo I saw when I got to Australia but he was well hidden by the tree branches. You can see how the cockatoo stands out after being treated with the focus brush. For a quick run through watch the video provided by OnOne Software.

I finished my cockatoo picture off to turn this less than extraordinary picture into a dynamic image I can share with family and friends who are interested in seeing what it’s like in Australia.

Take advantage of this exclusive special offer
VisualPhotoGuide.com is still happy to offer a discount on Perfect Photo Suite 7 to our readers. Just follow this link and use coupon code vizphotoguide to save up to $45 on your copy of Perfect Photo Suite 7.

It’s more fun if we talk about it. Share your photo editing success stories with us by commenting below.

Photo by Jo McClelland, 
Blast Furnace Park, Lithgow, NSW 
Perfect Layers example

Perfect Photo Suite 7 lives up to its name

I hate learning new software as a rule. I’d rather go in and get my work done then fiddle with a new feature that may only achieve a marginal improvement. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the new Perfect Photo Suite 7. It’s been a long time since a new photo suite has made me want to update my software.

Easy to learn
The new Perfect Photo Suite 7 opens with an easy to follow walk through pointing out the functions in natural short conversational bubbles. This introduction is easy to understand without being over simplified. Simply click through the initial introduction to the features and then you can dive right in, or if you’d like to have a more in-depth introduction, there are video tutorials available online.

Photo by Jo McClelland,
Blast Furnace Park, Lithgow, NSW

After effects
The Perfect Photo Suite 7 is like seven programs rolled into one, including new versions of Perfect Portrait, Perfect Effects, Perfect Layers and Perfect Resize as well as a brand new module called Perfect B&W which will enhance your black and white pictures. The first aspect of the program I played with was The Perfect Effects.

The effects were subtle but added a lot to my photos. In this example I layered three effects, Landscape; Magic City, the Bleach Bypass, and Color Correction; Color Enhance.

I loved this feature. There was what felt like endless choices to layer and they were easy to try without having to wait for the program to apply them. Once you’ve picked one effect, just remember to click “add” before you choose another to layer the effects, otherwise your new choice will replace your first layer. If you forget, a click on Undo in Edit will reapply your first  choice.

Photo by Jo McClelland,
Blast Furnace Park, Lithgow, NSW
Perfect Effects example

How to get it
Now that I’ve started, I’m hooked. I can’t wait to try spot focusing with the round focus bug and all the other ways to enhance my pictures. You’ll need Windows 7 or above to run the Perfect Photo Suite 7 on your PC and of course Mac versions are available as well.  There is a free download available but if you decide to purchase it, we’ve arranged for a special 15% discount for VisualPhotoGuide.com readers.  Head over to the Photo Perfect Suite 7 Website and use the following coupon code to save up to $45 dollars.
[coupon code=”perfect” /]  (must click link to receive discount)

We’d love to know what you think – let us know your thoughts on the software by commenting below.


How to Take Amazing Portraits in Sun Every Time

This is a Guest Post by Susan Black. She is a Tampa Wedding Photographer and specializes in Tampa Senior Pictures.
Do you have a technique you would like to share on Visual Photo Guide? If so drop us an email at via our Contribute form.

Do you want to take perfectly illuminated portraits of outdoor subjects in bright sunlight? How about in situations where they’re standing in front of a bright background? Do you hate dark shadowed “raccoon eyes?” The answer to make your outdoor portraits pop, is to expose for the sky. Use this tip to make the shot every time!

Using a SLR 35mm autofocus camera and flash, you can create flattering and dramatic outdoor portraits with ease.


With the flash turned off and your camera set in manual mode, use the camera’s internal exposure metering system. Looking through the viewfinder, press the shutter button halfway to illuminate the internal panel. The exposure meter is generally in the center on the bottom as you look through the viewfinder. (-2…1…0…1…+2)

To make the adjustments, start by selecting either your f stop or shutter speed. Aim the camera towards the brightest part of the picture, in this case the sky. Using the meter as a guide, adjust your shutter speed and f stop until reading is centered at 0. With the exposure set, turn on your camera’s flash, stand within a normal flash exposure range (6 – 10 ft.), focus on your subject and shoot.

Your flash will fill in and illuminate your subject nicely. If you desire more or less exposure on your subject, step forward or backwards accordingly. Some flash units can also be adjusted manually to allow shorter or longer bursts. This is also an option.

Very important, — always pay attention to the changing light. The sun going behind a cloud while you are shooting can affect the results of your image. The sky is no longer as bright as when the full sun was exposed so you will need to check your exposure meter again for the change in light.

Last, but certainly not least, be kind to your subject, don’t have them facing so they are looking directly into the bright sunlight. They will appreciate it and it will help to avoid squinty, closed looking eyes.


The image examples below were shot using a Canon 5D Mark II and Speedlight 580 EXII mounted on camera. The lens – 28-135 3.5-5.6 IS.

Photograph 1, was shot using the camera’s internal exposure meter as a guide. ISO was set at 100, f/13 the aperture with a focal length of 135mm. The meter centered at 0 at 1/125 of a second for the shutter speed. Here’s the result:


Photograph 2, shows the camera aimed toward the bright sky behind my subject, adjusting the shutter speed and f stop until the camera’s internal meter was perfectly centered at 0 . This recorded at 1/400 sec, f/13, ISO 100, 135mm. Here’s the result:


Photograph 3, the exposure meter was set for the sky, flash turned on, aim, focus and fire. Here’s the result:


Sum it up: 1/400 sec, f/13, ISO 100, 135mm with on camera flash. Pretty Blue sky, white billowy clouds, nicely illuminated subject…that’s a wrap!


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