The Low Down on Long Exposure Photography


Some topics instill trepidation in photographers – especially those who are just beginning to hone their craft.  Long exposure photography often falls into that category, although there is nothing to fear as long as you’re open to experimentation and are willing to learn how to adapt to different situations.

In order to create long exposure images, you’ll need just a few specific tools. A trusty tripod is key and a DSLR camera capable of creating long exposure images.  Photographing moving light, such as those adorning a Ferris wheel or a highway packed with nighttime traveling cars, takes a bit of practice as light travels at different speeds in each instance. As you practice, you’ll begin to get a feel for how – and when – to adjust your exposure settings.


Check your surroundings to determine how much available light is currently affecting your nighttime surroundings. If there is substantial ambient light from sources such as office buildings, signs and traffic, your selected shutter speed will be shorter.  If the environment is an evening sky with little surrounding light, be ready to extend your shutter speed, possibly up to several minutes.

One way to practice nighttime exposure techniques is to photograph a highway with substantial traffic.  Mount the camera on a sturdy tripod and select a location that provides a wide view of traffic.  As you extend the shutter settings, you’ll notice that the light patterns of the traffic will change.  For example, they might start to look thinner and more detailed as you increase the exposure time. This particular exercise is a solid way to learn how to adjust camera settings for nighttime photography.  You can then move on to other more challenging environments and will be able to call upon this new earned experience moving forward.

Mastering long exposure photography is a skill that can improve your imagery in several other situations as it provides training for how to adjust exposure based on various lowlight situations. It is also one of the more artistic expressions of the craft and the stunning results created will certainly stand out in your portfolio.


Properly Storing your CD and DVD’s

Properly Storing Photo Discs

We get many questions on how people should be storing the CD or DVD’s  their photos are on. Here a few quick tips on doing just that

Our photo libraries are now largely digital with smartphones becoming the primary camera of choice. FujiFilm estimates that 1.6 trillion images were taken last year with smartphones, cameras and other capture devices. This new normal means that protecting our favorite photos is even more important than ever as one hard drive crash can wipe out years of documented family history. Using an online backup service is key, but adding a second layer of protection that keeps you firmly in charge of your photo assets can ensure your pictures remain viable for the future. What’s the easiest way to achieve this? Simply backing up your image library to disc will do the trick. Here are a few tips to help make the process successful:

Tip #1:  If you’re using DVD or CDR media to store your pictures, these discs require care when handling as they can be easily damaged, leaving your photos inaccessible. DVDs are denser than CDs, so the information is tightly packed on the disc. A fingerprint or smudge can keep you from retrieving the files off the DVD, so make sure to handle the disc by the center hole or outer edge.

Tip #2: Consider using write-once rather than re-writable discs as a back-up method for your digital pictures. Many people have accidentally written over their re-writable discs and lost their digital pictures, including people who make a living in the technology field!

Tip #3:  Store your discs upright (similar to books on a bookshelf) and in jewel cases or specialty albums to protect them. Keep them in a cool, dry place.

Tip #4: Ever use a marker to label your disks ? Watch out, make sure you marker is archival safe. Acid in some markers can destroy your disk and can make them unreadable.

Bonus Backup Tip – Print Your Favorites:  We admit to being fans of going old-school with printed pictures, and in this situation, it’s because it works. Printed photographs never crash, and there’s something satisfying about viewing a hard copy photograph, holding it in your hand and then tucking it in a photo box or album. Better yet, pick a few favorites and frame them so you can enjoy them every day. Don’t let them languish on your hard drive – upload your photos to our site and we’ll get them printed quickly and inexpensively.

Smoke photography 101

Smoke Photography 101

Written by: Justin Tedford

Is the cold not your thing? In the winter months I tend to go dormant to shooting any photographs. Two years ago I decided to look into a few projects to occupy myself indoors for the long Iowa winter. I dove in to shooting water droplets and smoke.  You always have the same setup but two photographs are never the same! This time around I am going to show you my set up to photograph smoke and a few photographs from it.

Recommended Gear

  1. DSLR
  2. Lens ( I prefer to shoot with 100mm macro)
  3. Black Back Ground or Black Foam Core
  4. One Speed light
  5. Light stand
  6. Tripod
  7. Incense
  8. Flash/Umbrella holder

Photographing smoke is a fairly simple and rewarding shoot. Your images are never the same each time you set up and shoot. Thought it takes some time and space to shoot, it can be a fun thing to do on a cold winter’s day.

I first start off by setting up my flash on a Promaster LS-6 Light stand and use a Phottix  Varos II BG umbrella holder to place my flash on.  Secondly, I use one piece of black foam core as my background. Using a black background helps make your smoke pop in the final image.

Flash Settings

Flash is key in making the translucent smoke show up in your image. I recommend placing the flash to the left or right even with the smoke. When the flash fires it will shoot the light through the smoke making it appear in the image.

I fire the flash wirelessly in this situation with Nikon’s CLS system so I do not have to worry about cords since I work in a tighter space. You can use wireless trigger such as Pocket wizard or Phottix I set the power on my Speedlight to roughly 1/32 power in manual flash mode. We do not want too much power because it will cause your smoke to overexpose. On occasion I will place my flash roughly six inches from the smoke. Having a lower flash power reduces the chances of over exposing my image highlights in the smoke.

Camera Settings

            My standard settings I usually use are:

Shutter Speed: 1/200th

Aperture: F/16

ISO: 100-200

I keep my shutter fast because smoke is constantly moving and it helps with the movement. Since smoke floats around it is very unpredictable, so I keep my apertures pretty small to achieve a greater depth of field for my images. I keep my ISO around 100-200 so I can keep the noise in the image down in case I want to make enlargements of my final images.

 Final Images

            I try to get my exposure right in camera as much as I can. I do very little post processing in my images; I use Lightroom 5 for 99% of my post processing needs. After my shoot I tend to adjust my shadows, highlights, contrast and clarity. On occasion I will go in and change the white balance which will allow for me to change the color of the smoke.  Out off all the things I tend to shoot this is where I do the least post processing. I may flip my images around on occasion to produce a different effect so the smoke may look like it is coming from the bottom up through the fame.

Please feel free to call Justin at 319-395-9121 or email with questions.

smoke 2 smoke1

Organizing your photos in Five easy steps

Organizing Your Photos in Five Steps


Now that the holiday season has ended, what are you going to do with those 527 photos you took?  And didn’t your daughter have some great shots on her iPhone?  One of the many joys of digital photography is the ability to snap away with reckless abandon. Sorting and organizing afterward? Not so much…


The New Year offers a fresh start, a chance to start over or begin a new project.  Unfortunately, when it comes to managing our growing digital photo libraries, it seems the only thing we know to do is simply buy a larger hard drive. The idea of managing our photo libraries can seem like a daunting task, but you’ll find that once you have a strategy and get started, it can be a pretty simple process.

We have a plan designed to help you tame and organize your digital images so that you can find your favorites and free up some well-needed hard drive space.  The steps below are designed to fit your schedule. You can even break them up into different time slots, such as one step per week. Just make sure to finish the job so you can enjoy the reward of knowing you can now find those favorite images on a moment’s notice.


Step One: Consolidate Cameras and Smartphones

Most families have multiple compact cameras and smartphones and all are being used during holiday gatherings. Many of those devices are full of photos yet to be transferred to a computer. It’s time to get everything in one place, including additional memory cards, USB drives and any other media containing photos.  You may not want your kids’ smartphone images but ask them if there any special photos that they’d like to have included in your master library. Or better yet, ask if you can scroll through their camera roll because there may be some treasures they may not realize they captured.  They can simply email or text those photos to you.  Emailing is best as you can better transfer the full resolution files and take a step out of the centralization process.  Put all the photos in one place so they can be organized and protected later. Your best bet? The family’s central computer.


Step Two: Create a System that Fits Your Habits

Keeping photos organized means having a file system in place that can be easily duplicated and maintained over time.  For example, many people choose to create sub-folders for each year under the master Photos folder.  From that point, you’ll need to decide if the subfolders for each year should be monthly, seasonal, by event or a combination. There is no one best method. The only right answer is what works for your particular situation and habits.  Don’t try to force something that you feel won’t fit your lifestyle. As an example, your file tree may resemble My Photos>2014>December or My Photos>2014>Winter or My Photos>2014>Family Reunion.

Many software programs will automatically create a folder system for you but you still may need to create subfolders to keep images organized.  Otherwise, they will be placed in one large master folder, which can become difficult to sort through down the road. Your camera’s settings will need to be accurate for this function to work properly.

Once you’ve decided on a method, make sure you have a folder established before transferring additional photos to your hard drive. To keep the system working, your photos need a place to land in advance, even if you create the folder immediately before transferring.

Step Three: Mass Photo Exodus


While this step may take a bit longer than the first two, it will also be more enjoyable. Settle down with a cup of coffee or tea, play some music and get ready for a trip down memory lane.

When moving photos from multiple devices, you can handle this in one of two ways:  you can either transfer all the images into a master folder and them sort and organize, or you can organize them as you go with each device. If you’re short on time, it’s better to transfer everything into one location first, but this may draw out the process and take more time down the road to manage.

Some digital cameras may have months of images while others may have images from a recent event, such as a birthday party or holiday. Start the process of sorting images and putting them in the proper file folders. As you sort, check the images and delete duplicates, blurry images or photos that are too similar to others.  Each image can take several megabytes of space on your hard drive, so deleting will not only free up space, but the ‘image clutter’ will be eliminated so that you can more easily find your favorite photographs.

Repeat with each device. Once you’ve finished the transfers and verified that the images were safely moved to your computer, reformat your media card using your camera’s format function. Reformatting your card a few times a year will help maintain the card’s efficiency and reliability when handling future photos.

Many of us also receive photos from loved ones via email, so check through your inbox and saved folders to see if any significant photos need to be included in this process.

Step Four: Find Your Favorites


This is an optional step, but one that many photographers find extremely helpful in locating pictures of specific people. Most image editing programs have a tool for marking favorite images, and this can come in handy when you need to create a slide show, a scrapbook or other project. Many programs have features that use facial recognition software, and once it’s set up, it does a fairly good job. It’s much faster than tagging each photo individually and you can always correct any mistakes as you go.

As you look through the images, use the opportunity again to delete duplicates.  After all, you really don’t need ten images of the kids on the park bench when one or two will do nicely.

Step Five: Back Up Your Entire Library


Once your images have been imported, edited, organized and tagged, take that finalized library and copy the entire master folder to a high-capacity external hard drive. If you don’t have one, you can also copy the images to DVD-R but it may require spreading the files among several discs. Today’s external storage media is relatively inexpensive and you’ll get a great deal of storage for the money. To help you select a make and model, you can check reviews and related information on a number of reputable tech sites such as, or (PC Magazine).

Online backup is also an important part of your long-term preservation strategy.  When choosing the right service, a flat rate is best as photos take up substantial space (and videos demand even more). Consider a company that has a stable reputation and check the FAQ section on its site to learn more about the specifics of the process.  We recommend, who offers multi-device backup with or without the cloud. Apple users can use Time Machine for backup to an external drive and can be set up on an automatic backups schedule.

You may also want to consider printing your favorite photos because printed photos won’t crash!  A printed photograph is often overlooked as back-up option but it is a reliable one and very easy to complete. Just upload your favorite images to our site or bring them on a media card and we’ll print high quality images for you.  Better yet, order two sets – one for your personal library and a second set to keep in another location with your discs or secondary external hard drive. You can also order a photo book of your holiday images, just one or several as gifts, to send to loved ones.

Once you’ve completed this organizing project, you’ll find it much easier to keep up with the images throughout the year.  If you have any questions about this process, drop by the store, send us an email or call us. We’d be happy to help you!

Pose like a pro

Have you ever looked at a family photo and thought that it just looked “off” for some reason?  The picture is okay but nothing particularly special. The issue may be in how the people are posed.  Professional photographers are masters of posing their subjects; they understand the importance of the right positioning and angles.  This holiday season, you can get great family photos by using these posing tips:

Scout Your Location:  Take a mental count of how many subjects you’ll have in your photograph.  If it’s a particularly large group, you’ll want to make sure that there is a location capable of fitting everyone comfortably, so choose this area well in advance.

Chairs and Other Props:  If you have elderly members in the group, make sure you have chairs for them to sit comfortably in.  You may wish to put them in the center of the photograph and have young children sit on the floor in front of them.  Adult family members can then stand or kneel around the grandparents, who will serve as the ‘anchor center’ in the photograph.

Balance Your Subjects:  Take a quick inventory of who will be in the photograph and make sure that the tallest members are in the back and that you can position others in a slightly staggered manner so that one person’s head isn’t hidden behind another.  Grab a pen and paper and write down each person’s name.  You can use this as a cheat sheet to create a posing chart in advance.  When your subjects are ready, you’ll have a plan and can get the photo posed and shot quickly, which is important when small children are involved!

Three filters every nature photographer should have

Written by: Justin Tedford

At some point every photographer ends up photographing a scenic landscape. Some of us are drawn back to the subject time and time again and it becomes a passion. Waking up before the sun rises and trekking on the back trails in search of our greatest shots. What are some of the simplest tools we can use as a photographer? Filters are a great way to enhance and improve our images.

There lightweight, easy to use and produce great results when properly used.  There are three filters I think that all nature photographers should have in their bag.

  1. Neutral Density

What does a neutral density do? A neutral density filter evenly reduces the amount of light passing to the camera’s sensor.   There are many situations that you may want to use a ND filter.

  • Smoothing water movement. Allowing for the moving water to become silky and smooth.
  • Shoot wider apertures in brighter light for a nice background blur without over exposing our final image.
  • Making fast moving objects less apparent in an image.

Not all ND filters are the same.  ND filters comes in varying densities. You may find a ND filters from a range of a ND2-ND1000.  A ND2 filter will reduce your amount of light by 1 stop and a ND1000 will reduce the amount of light entering the camera by 10 stops! So when you are looking to purchase a ND filter think about how much light you want to reduce.  It is also not uncommon to have a few different ND filters in your bag.

2. Graduated Neutral Density

Sometimes you do not need to reduce the light entering the camera over the entire image. This is where you may grab your graduated neutral density.  The graduated neutral is just like a standard ND filter but instead of darkening the entire image it is graduated from the top being darker and gradually becoming clear at the bottom. This helps your over all exposure in the sky when exposing your images without over exposing the sky.

3. Circular Polarizer

The circular polarizer is the most popular and widely used of the three filters. The circular polarizer can be used for many reasons.

  • Darkens your skies for a deeper blue color
  • Reduces reflections and glare off of water and other shiny objects
  • Increases image saturation

Remember that a circular polarizer also reduces that amount of light entering your camera. Sometimes around two or three stops

Filter Quality

Remember that when purchasing a filter, quality matters. Filters can advertently affect the quality of your images. When purchasing a filter look for a trusted brand such as Hoya, Promaster or B&W. Look for a filter that is multi-coated and clear when held up to your eye as well as has little to no reflections.

How Histograms Help Snowy Shots

A histogram is a graph of the exposure of each image and can help you determine if images are over or underexposed.  The ‘true black’ is illustrated at the far left of the graph and ‘true white’ is found on the far right. A well-exposed image will generally show points close to both ends. Each histogram graph tells a story about the exposure of the image and can guide you in making adjustments so that images are properly exposed.

For winter shooting, a histogram can be very useful in showing if bright white snow is spiking your exposure and causing your image to appear ‘blown out’ or overexposed. If this happens while you’re shooting, you can trick your camera by adjusting your +/- compensation button to adjust for this situation. And, if you’re shooting in RAW format, you’ll have the ability to adjust your highlights and mid-tones in post-processing if necessary. That said, it’s a lot easier to get the shot the way you want it the first time as opposed to having to make corrections at a later time.

Quick Tip: Keep Condensation at Bay

Keep Condensation at Bay 

Winter is hear and its getting colder ! Here is a quick tip to protect your camera against a forgotten enemy.

Condensation can be an issue any time you bring your DSLR from a cold outdoor environment back into a warmer environment such as a car or your home.  Condensation is the moisture that is created when cold and warm climates come together at the same time, and moisture invading any aspect of your digital camera can result in substantial damage.

Using a plastic bag to protect your camera is another way of battling condensation.  By placing your digital camera inside the bag – and do this while still outside and not after entering the warmer indoors – the condensation will collect on the inside surface of the plastic bag rather than on the camera.

Try to ease into the temperature change if at all possible. Some experts recommend placing the camera on a windowsill or in an unheated area where the equipment will gradually warm up rather than being subject to a harsh temperature shift.

Keeping your gear in a sturdy bag is the perfect way to keep your camera and accessories protected while not in use.

Its 2015 ! Where will photography take you ?

Written by : Justin Tedford


A new year is upon us once again. How will you improve your photographs in 2015 and where will photography take you? Photography is a lifelong learning process. There is always something new you can learn. Here at Photo Pro U we compiled the Top 5 things you can do to improve your photography in 2015!

  1. Shoot RAW

Some scenes can be difficult to photograph. We want to get our exposure right in camera. Raw is going to allow tweaking our photographs. We have more levels of brightness in our RAW images than a jpeg. This will allow for better adjustments in the image. Forget to set your white balance? No problem, Raw allows for easy white balance adjustment at the click of the mouse. So if you haven’t started shooting raw may be it is something new to try. But remember, RAW comes with challenges and software to!

  1. Use a Tripod and good one!

Shooting on a tripod can be the easiest way to improve your photographs. The tripod is going to allow you to slow down. Slowing down is not a bad thing in this face paced world. Slowing down is going to allow you to look over your scene and compose your shots for better images. We all want tack sharp images. The tripod is going to allow you to achieve this especially for enlarging your photographs. Just the slightest camera movement can spoil that image from being tack sharp. Make sure your tripod is a good steady one. Having a tripod that’s slimy is just as hindering and not having one at all.

  1. Take your camera everywhere

The more you shoot….the better you will become as a photographer. By simply taking your camera where ever you go is going to allow you to capture a lot of moments and scenes. I always have my camera with me. The best shots come from the most unexpected moments. So having your camera with you will also allow for more shooting and the more you shoot the better you can become. In the words of Henri Cartier-Bresson ”Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” 

  1. Join your local Photography Club

Why struggle with something on your own. Joining your local photography club is a great way to become a better photographer. Surrounding yourself with people who enjoy the same things as you do will help in many ways. Clubs have a variety of shooters that shoot many different subject