How to Photograph Fireworks Like A Pro

How to Photograph Fireworks Like A Pro

How to Photograph Fireworks Like A Pro

One of the best things about photography is learning new skills that help make stunning pieces of art.

Firework photography produces amazing photographs that capture the viewer and the photographer alike.

It can seem a little tricky but with the right tools and tricks, you can capture the colors and shapes in the sky that happen on some of our favorite holidays & celebrations. 

ISO 100    Aperture ƒ/11    Shutter Speed 3.5s

Equipment and Tools

There are a few different types of equipment that you need in order to take successful firework photographs.


The first is a camera that allows you to adjust its settings. When shooting photos of fireworks, you need to be able to change the f-stop, ISO, and shutter speed. All DSLR cameras allow you to do this, as well as some point and shoots from Canon, Sony, and Nikon.


Tripods are extremely helpful when you are trying to shoot photographs of fireworks. They keep your camera steady and reduce the camera shake that comes from holding your camera by hand when shooting. If your tripod isn’t as stable as you would like it to be, you can weigh it down by adding something heavy to the middle of it. A sandbag will usually do the trick. While tripods are great, you don’t necessarily need one to shoot photos of fireworks. You can get around the need of a tripod by bracing yourself up against something stable or finding a pillar to set your camera on. You will also need to adjust your shutter speed if you are shooting with the camera in your hand in order to reduce camera shake.

Shutter Control App or Cable

A remote shutter is a must for shooting firework photographs. When you use a remote control shutter, it reduces the amount of camera shake that comes from manually hitting the shutter button. When you have a camera that has Wi-Fi enabled, you can also use a remote shutter apps.  Nikon has the Nikon App WMU, Canon has the EOS Remote, and Sony has different remote apps depending on which model.


When it comes to lenses, you have a few different options. If you are wanting a shot that includes a lot of space filled with fireworks, reach for a wide angle lens. Anything under a 24mm will do the trick. If a close-up photo of a firework is more your style, choose a telephoto lens. 

Camera Settings for Photographing Fireworks

One of the most important things you need to get right when shooting fireworks are the settings of your camera. It is important to shoot in manual mode if you want to correctly capture the fireworks. When setting up your aperture, you want to keep it on the small side. Start with f8 or f16. This will help keep your photograph sharp and in focus.

When it comes to shutter speed, you want your shutter to be longer because your aperture is narrow and you need time to allow more light into the camera. A longer shutter speed also allows you to capture more bursts of fireworks.

Now that you have your aperture and shutter speed figured out, you also need to adjust your ISO. The higher the ISO, the more amount of noise you will have in your photograph, so try to keep your ISO as low as possible. Start with ISO 100 and bump it up until your photograph is as light as you would like it to be.

ISO 100    Aperture ƒ/11    Shutter Speed 2.5s

How to Adjust Your Settings on Each Camera Model

 ISOF-StopShutter Speed
CanonHold down the ISO button on the camera and rotate the main dial at the same time.Hold down the AV button on the camera and rotate the main dial at the same time. Rotate the main dial.
NikonHold down the ISO button on the camera and rotate the command dial at the same time.Hold down the aperture button on the camera and rotate the command dial at the same time. Rotate the command dial.
SonyPress the control wheel and select ISO. Turn the dial until you select the correct ISO. Press the control wheel and select aperture. Turn the dial until you select the correct ISO.Press the control wheel and select shutter speed. Turn the dial until you select the correct ISO.


After choosing the appropriate settings for your camera, you need to think about how you want to frame your photograph. You want to pay attention to what is both in the foreground and the background of your shots. Is there something in the frame that is going to distract from the fireworks? Or is there something in the frame that is going to add to the picture?

One of the most important things you need to do while framing your photographs is to watch your horizons. This means that you need to make sure that your camera is shooting straight and that the horizons won’t be off and tilted. If there are other things in your photographs besides the fireworks, people will be able to tell that your camera was tilted because the objects will also be tilted. 

Quick Tips!

  • Get to your location early to scout out good locations clear of objects that will obstruct your view
  • Try to get your best shots early in the show. Often times the smoke from the fireworks will fill the air and the photos will not look as crisp in the sky.
  • Make sure you’ve charged your battery! Shooting at longer shutter speeds uses up more power in your camera. You don’t want to miss the shot due to no battery!

ISO 100    Aperture ƒ/22    Shutter Speed 4s
Smoke polution example: ISO 100    Aperture ƒ/11    Shutter Speed 2.5s


Have you ever wondered how to focus when photographing fireworks? Similar to taking a photo of the moon or something off in the distance, auto-focus isn’t going to work for you. 

When you have the choice, manual focus is the way to go. You have a higher chance of getting a more in focus shot in manual than in auto. In order to focus with manual, point your camera far off into the distance like at a tree or at the moon and focus on that.

What I typically do to make sure that my focus is 100% accurate, is focus with the auto-focus button on a bright explosion right at the beginning of the show. Then I’ll swap it over to manual focus immediately after I’ve found the accurate focus point.

Creative tip:

  • Focus on an object in the foreground. You can leave all of your other settings the same and snap a few photos throughout the show. This is especially good when the smoke has made the sky too poluted to shoot the fireworks.
ISO 800    Aperture ƒ/2    Shutter Speed 1/60s

Have Fun & Experiment

The most important part of the whole shooting fireworks experience is to remember to have fun and experiment. You may have to adjust your settings and your focus as you go to get exactly what you are looking for, but that is part of the magic.   

I hope you enjoyed these tips on photographing fireworks. Go out there an have fun & be safe! 🙂 

6 African American Photographers Who Advanced Civil Rights Through Their Art

6 African American Photographers Who Advanced Civil Rights Through Their Art

6 African American Photographers Who Advanced

Civil Rights Through Their Art

We’re celebrating Black History Month with a tribute to six pioneering African American photographers.

Their accomplishments were astounding considering the odds against their success because of segregation and prejudice. Through their technical excellence and storytelling through image, they fought racial stereotypes and injustice.

Among these men, two won Pulitzer Prizes for journalism. Others created successful studios that captured a rising black middle class in the early 20th century.

Civil rights advancements in the 1950s and 60s owe a massive debt to the collective works of these superb photographers.

Gordon Parks  (1912 – 2005)

“I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera.”

Photographer, filmmaker, musician and novelist Gordon Parks was born in Fort Scott Kansas in 1912 in an era where racial violence was commonplace. After his mother died when he was 14, Parks moved in with relatives in Minnesota, but soon after became homeless.

He began his photography career in 1941, after purchasing a second-hand camera in a Seattle pawnshop. After seeing his work for a women’s clothing shop in St. Paul, Minnesota, Mrs. Joe Louis encouraged Parks and his wife to move to Chicago and start a portrait studio.

His exemplary work led to him winning a 1941fellowship with the Farm Security Administration (FSA), which was tasked with documenting the nation’s social conditions, under the direction of Roy Stryker.

Park’s Work with the Farm Security Administration

Working under Stryker, Park’s created one of his most well-known photographs, American Gothic. 

This racially charged photograph was inspired by Parks’ daily encounters with segregation in Washington, D.C’s restaurants and shops.

The subject of the photograph, Mrs. Ella Watson, was a part of the cleaning crew that worked on the FSA grounds.

Upon viewing the photograph, Stryker commented that it was an “indictment of America” that could get all of his photographers fired.

Yet he encouraged Parks to keep working with Watson to document the inequalities in American society between African Americans and whites.

Another of Park’s major works of this era was a series of 1943 photographs depicting a racially integrated camp in New York state.

The photographs depicted children playing together, cooking and enjoying the fun of summer camp.

For a still largely segregated American society, these photographs showing racial harmony were a revelation.

Career After the FSA

After the disbandment of the FSA, Parks remained in Washington as a photographer with the Office of War Information. He later followed Stryker to the Standard Oil Photography Project, which documented life in small towns and industrial centers.

Upon resigning from the War Office, Parks became involved with fashion photography again and was featured in Vogue magazine, despite racial segregation that stacked the odds against his success.

But it was during his career as a photojournalist that Parks received the recognition he was due.

Staff Photographer at Life Magazine

In 1948, Parks became a staff photographer for Life Magazine, the premier publication of its day. His association with the magazine lasted until 1972.

During this time, Parks became one of the most celebrated photojournalists in the U.S., photographing celebrities such as Barbra Streisand, Muhammed Ali, Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael as well as capturing sports, fashion and documenting poverty and racial division.

During Parks’ tenure at Life, the March 8, 1968 edition featuring Parks’ portrayal of the shocking living conditions of the Fontanelle family, living in abject poverty in Harlem rocked the nation at the height of civil rights unrest.

As well as achieving fame as a photographer, Parks was a celebrated filmmaker and musician (directing the screenplay for the hit movie Shaft, as well as composing the score).

Parks passed away in Manhattan at age 93.

James Presley Ball (1825 – 1904)

James Presley Ball was a master photographer who used his craft to fight against slavery in his abolitionist campaigns. 

Ball was a man whose photography skills evolved along with the technology of the times. An astute businessman who founded a thriving community of artists, Ball started his business offering his clientele expensive daguerrotypes.

He later embraced the less costly photographic print to draw a larger clientele and thus maximize his earning potential.

One of the Most Celebrated Galleries in the West

Ball’s Cinninati-based ‘Great Daguerrian Gallery of the West’ became one of the most famous and celebrated photography galleries in the U.S. He used his fame in campaigns to abolish slavery.

Working with a team of fellow African American artists, Ball created a massive painted canvas panorama titled: “Mammoth Pictorial Tour of the United States Comprising Views of the African Slave Trade; of Northern and Southern Cities; of Cotton and Sugar Plantations; of the Mississippi, Ohio and Susquehanna Rivers, Niagara Falls & C.”

The panorama consisted of 2,400 yards of canvas that was slowly unrolled before an audience. The work exposed the shocking conditions his fellow African Americans endured under slavery.

Sadly, this work has been lost.

Featured Exhibits, Notable Clients and Awards

Ball’s works were featured at the Ohio Mechanics Institute expositions in 1852, 1854, 1855 and 1857. He won the bronze medal for photography in 1857. 

In September 1887, Ball was honored as the official photographer of the 25th-anniversary celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Among Ball’s noted subjects were Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens, Jenny Lind, P.T. Barnum and the family of President Ulysses S. Grant.

He moved west and became a prominent figure in Helena, Montana. He was active in politics and established a studio there.

In his last years, Ball relocated to Honolulu in 1902 to find relief for his rheumatism. He passed away there in 1904.

Daguerreotype Sets Auction Record

In 1992, an 1851 daguerreotype of Ball’s sold for $63,800. At the time, this was aworld’s record for sale of a daguerreotype at auction.

James Van Der Zee (1886 – 1983)

James Van Der Zee was born in Lennox, Massachusetts and received his first camera in 1900, at the age of 14. As the owner of one of the few cameras in his hometown, Van Der Zee was often called on to document events in his community.

After moving to Newark, New Jersey in 1915, Van Der Zee was employed as a darkroom and photographer’s assistant. After relocating to New York City in 1916, Van Der Zee established his first photographic studio in his sister’s music conservatory.

The Photographer of the Harlem Renaissance

Within two years, he opened up the Guarantee Photo Studio in Harlem. He quickly became the most successful photographer in the Harlem district of Manhattan.

His famous clients included activist Marcus Garvey, Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson and poet Countee Cullen, Joe Louis and Florence Mills.

Along with his portraits of famous clients, Van Der Zee also captured dignified portraits of a rising African American middle class that included home and business owners.

Glamour and Technical Proficiency Were Van Der Zee’s Trademarks

Van Der Zee’s technically proficient studio work featured props, retouching and double exposures. He often was asked to capture important happenings in the lives of his customers such as weddings, funerals and social events.

Van Der Zee’s photographs lent an aura of glamour to his subjects and he went out of his way to make them look good.

“I tried to see that every picture was better-looking than the person … I had one woman come to me and say ‘Mr. VanDerZee my friends tell that’s a nice picture, but it doesn’t look like you.’ That was my style”, said VanDerZee.[6]

In 1924, Van Der Zee was asked to document the members and activities of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) to portray a positive view of the Association – despite the controversy surrounding its creator, Marcus Garvey.

Depression Brings Change in Business Model

During the Depression, the demand for portraiture dried up due to economic circumstances and the increase in numbers of personal cameras. Van Der Zee responded to the challenging times by doing passport photos, photo restorations and other miscellaneous photography jobs for the next decades.

Featured in ‘Harlem on My Mind’ at the Met

In 1967, Van Der Zee rose to worldwide fame after he was featured in a Metropolitan Museum of Art Exhibit titled “Harlem on My Mind.”

It was mere chance that Van Der Zee was featured after exhibit researcher Reginald McGee walked into Van Der Zee’s studio and asked him if he had any photographs from the 1920s and 1930s.

Because of this accidental discovery, Van Der Zee’s legacy is still with us today.

Moneta Sleet Jr. (1926 – 1996)

Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Moneta Sleet Jr.’s fascination with photography began when his parents gave him a box camera as a child. But he didn’t decide to pursue a career in photography until attended Kentucky State University as an undergraduate.  

Initially enrolled as a business major, Sleet made the switch to photography after he landed a job as an assistant at a photo studio operated by one of the deans at KSU.

After graduating from Kentucky State, he went on to receive a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University in 1950.

Sleet’s first job was as a sportswriter for the now defunct Amsterdam News, a black newspaper in NYC.

Joins Johnson Publishing Company

In 1955, Sleet joined the Johnson Publishing Company and began shooting photos for Jet and Ebony magazines. He went on to spend four decades with the company, covering the U.S. Civil Rights movements, including the 1963 march on Washington D.C., and the 1965 march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama. Sleet also covered the rise of independent African nations, including independence celebrations in Nairobi, Kenya in 1965.

He photographed many African heads of state, including Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, Liberian president William Tubman and Kenyan president Jomo Kenyatta.

Sleet was also much in demand as a celebrity photographer.

Billie Holiday, Patti LaBelle, Thelonius Monk, Arthur Ashe and Sidney Poitier were among his subjects.

The Pulitzer Winning Photograph that Almost Never Was

But Sleet’s most famous, Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph almost never happened.

Mrs. Corretta Scott King noticed that no African American photographers had been invited to document the funeral of her late husband, Dr. Martin Luther King. When Mrs. King noticed this slight, she threatened to ban all photographers from the funeral unless Sleet was invited.

Two Firsts for African Americans

Sleet captured a heart-rending photo of Dr. King’s five-year-old daughter lying across her mother’s lap, looking wide-eyed in grief at the camera. This photo won Sleet the Pulitzer Prize the first for an African American and also a first for an African American to win for journalism.

The Photographer of a Rising Black Washington Society

Addison Scurlock was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Following his high school graduation, he moved to Washington D.C. with his family. Soon after he began a photography apprenticeship under Moses P. Rice.

Scurlock opened his first photography business in 1904, later opening his storefront studio in 1911.

His mission was to make his subjects ‘look good,’ and he delivered on this mission with excellent technical skills in posing, lighting and retouching.


Attribution: Photomohammad [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

John H. White (1945 – )

“I light candles, I don’t curse the darkness,” he said. “Even now, my colleagues are cursing the darkness. I’m lighting the candles. And I give wings to dreams, I ain’t breaking no wings. I’m not clipping any wings. Make a difference in the world. One light. One day. One image.”

Deeply Influenced By Minister Father

Pulitzer Award-winning photojournalist John H. White was deeply influenced by his Methodist minister father, who made it a point to expose his sons to the best and the worst the world had to offer. The influence of this father instilled a deep love of people in John that shines through in his photography.

White decided to pursue a career as a photographer while enrolled in a commercial art program. He said that at the time, he decided that photography was the “best and simplest means of expression for me …”

Remarkable Photojournalism Career

White began his career with Chicago Daily News, then moved to the Chicago Sun-Times in 1978. He remained with the Sun-Times until 1993.

White’s photojournalism assignments took him all over the world, including Russia, South Africa, Mexico, the Middle East and Asia. In 1979, he covered Pope John Paul II’s visit to Mexico as one of the few photographers approved by the Vatican.

To honor his long career and body of work, White received the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism in 1982.

Selected as a Photographer for ‘Day in the Life of America’ Project

White was one of 200 photographers who participated in the largest photographic project in U.S. history, the 1986 “Day in the Life of America.”

As well as being employed by the Sun-Times, White also taught photojournalism at Columbia College Chicago, passing on the torch to the next generation of photojournalists.

The ‘Eyes of the World’

One of White’s most inspiring quotes is, “A photographer can be the eyes for the world. It’s a privilege and a tremendous responsibility.”

There is no better way to sum up the achievements of these men than those words. Their work helped break down racial barriers and shine a light on the issues of injustice and poverty. We owe them a debt of gratitude.

Sources use for this article:

How to Photograph the Moon for Astonishing Results

How to Photograph the Moon for Astonishing Results

How to Photograph the Moon for Astonishing Results

You’ve seen countless stunning images of the moon and night sky, but do you ever wonder what it takes to capture these images?

Photographing the moon can be intimidating at first but once you get it down, you’re in for an incredibly rewarding experience every photographer should strive for.

Determining When to Shoot

ISO 100    Aperture ƒ/4.5    Shutter Speed 1/160s

One of the first steps to getting a perfect moon photo is planning when to venture out for your photos and knowing what scenarios will produce the desired results.

Time of Day

The best time of day to photograph the moon is either right after sunset or just before sunrise, which is displayed in the photo above. Doing so allows you to capture the moon when its closest to the horizon, which is when it’s least contrasted against the sky.

This makes your job easier and gives you foreground imagery to work with, since the foreground will likely still be illuminated.

If you have a long telephoto lens, photographing the moon in the dead of night can land some beautiful detailed shots.

Crop in on the moon as tight as possible and use a lens that is at least 300mm when shooting the moon against an almost black sky.

Weather Conditions

The quality of your photos will greatly depend on the weather. If you’re looking for a photo with a crisp moon as the focus, make sure to shoot on a clear night when there are very little or no clouds. Higher elevations with no air pollution work best!

Moon Phases

Actual full moon photos can end up feeling flat and dull, since the light is hitting it face on. If you want to photograph a “full moon” your best bet is to shoot the day before or after the actual true moon. Another great option is to shoot a Gibbous or Quarter moon, which will reveal the craters and shadows of the moon’s surface. You can find out what phase the moon will be in at any given time and place at this link.

Equipment Needed to Capture the Moon

The next step is making sure you have your equipment ready and on hand. Moon photography can be quite expensive, but can also be done with less expensive equipment if you’re willing to compromise on the type of shot.

At a bare minimum you’ll need:

  • Tripod
  • Remote trigger or cable release
  • 55-200mm lens. 800mm+ preferred

Even the slightest movement will cause blur when shooting the moon due to how extremely far away your subject is, so a tripod and remote trigger are a must.

ISO 320    Aperture ƒ/20.0    Shutter Speed 1/50s

Your lens will of course make the biggest difference when taking a photograph of the moon. The longer the lens the better and using a telephoto lens is preferred. Using at least an 800mm lens will give you the highest quality images. If this isn’t in your budget, consider renting a lens for a one-time shoot!

Photographing the Moon on a Budget

Without using at least a 200-300mm lens, the moon will come out very small. This being said if you’re shooting the moon with a 55-200mm lens, afterward you can use editing software after shooting to create some stunning images.

ISO 100    Aperture ƒ/5.0    Shutter Speed 1/320s

If you’re working with less sophisticated equipment and still want to photograph the moon, instead of focusing on the moon itself, put the focus on the foreground and have the moon positioned nicely in the background of the photo.

Camera Settings to Use When Photographing the Moon

Although specific camera settings will differ widely based on the specific conditions you’re shooting in, there are some rules that should always be followed when photographing the moon.

Image Stabilization and Mirror Lock-Up

One of these is that the image stabilization feature is off to prevent blur, which should be done every time you use a tripod. This may seem paradoxical, but turning on vibration reduction when using a tripod will actually result in blurred images. If you’re camera allows for it, you also want to use mirror lock-up mode (MLU) to minimize shakiness.

Shooting in RAW

Using a RAW format when shooting the moon is a good idea, which gives you significantly more power when editing the photos in post production. After all the work you put in to photographing the moon, you’ll definitely want this option! To learn more about the advantages of shooting in RAW read our RAW vs. JPEG blog post.

ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed

You’ll have to play around with the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, so make sure to switch to manual mode. Don’t rely on the light meter when deciding on your settings, since the camera will be confused by the moon’s light.

Considering the extreme brightness of the moon, most of the time you should be able to use your camera’s native ISO setting with good results. Some exceptions would be when photographing the moon in a landscape setting with lots of foreground imagery or when capturing an extreme crescent moon.

Although it doesn’t seem like it, the moon is moving in the sky at a fast pace and you’ll need a fast shutter speed to keep the image sharp. Using a minimum shutter speed of 1/125 to photograph the moon is a good benchmark. If you’re using a longer lens you can use slower shutter speeds but keep it at least 1/2 a second to prevent blur.

A good place to start overall is with your camera on the lowest possible ISO speed, an aperture of f/11 and a shutter speed of 1/250, and adjust as needed.

Importance of Composition with Moon Photography

Composition is very important when photographing the moon. If you’re capturing only the moon with no foreground imagery, place the moon in the center or use the rule of thirds to determine where it should be off-center.

ISO 160    Aperture ƒ/4.4    Shutter Speed 1/800s
ISO 320    Aperture ƒ/6.3    Shutter Speed 1/200s

When using foreground subject matter in your moon shots, some ideas are to photograph the moon as it comes over the mountains or ocean, or to frame it between objects.

Now that you have the tips you need to capture the moon’s beauty, get creative with it! You could try a day time shot, or try photographing a celestial event such as a blood moon, supermoon, or an eclipse. The opportunities are endless.

Need help understanding all the different dials on your camera? Join me for my free training called “Show Your Camera Who’s Bossand I’ll show you how to use those dials!

20 Student Photos We’re in Love With for Valentine’s Day

20 Student Photos We’re in Love With for Valentine’s Day

20 Student Photos We’re in Love With for Valentine’s Day

You’ve probably seen me sharing some our students photos on the Facebook page recently.

It’s one of the greatest honors I have as a mentor…

Here are some of me and my team’s favorite photos to show off this month:

Troy Snider

Dale Brown

Amy Sandrin

Christine Kimokeo

Lauren Easdale

Kaci Groesbeck


Robin Hill Mayer

Melanie Nebbeling

Tiffani Recchia

Bonni Myszka 

Flan Hehir‎

Cassandra Dallman

Christine Alifieris

Winelda Marcum

Julia Goodsell

Brandi Fletcher

T.s. Gallant‎

Anna Farrell

Betty Sorenson

Thanks to all of our students for sharing these photos inside our Facebook group. If you’re an existing student, please keep sharing!  

Want to start taking photos like the ones above? Join me on my free training and learn how to show your camera who’s boss.

Crop Sensor vs Full Frame

Crop Sensor vs Full Frame

Full Frame vs Crop Sensor Cameras : Which is Right For You?

If you’re taking your first deep dive into photography, you’ve probably asked this question.

But don’t worry – even seasoned photographers revisit the discussion.

The truth is that one type of sensor is not inherently superior to the other; it’s a matter of context. The sensor that is right for you depends on your answers to a few simple questions.

But before we get there, let’s start by clarifying the terms we’ll be using.

The Sensor

In short, the sensor in your DSLR roughly equates to the film in an old 35mm camera. It is the part of the camera that captures and records light. 

When you press the shutter button, everything in view of the lens is recorded by the sensor; the amount of light, the colors, the focus. It seems logical to assume that a bigger sensor equals more data collected, which in turn equals a better photograph. While there is some truth to this, is it definitely not the whole story. Creating a “good” photograph has more to do with the photographer and the circumstances than the equipment.

Full Frame Sensor

A “full” sensor refers to one that is the same size as one frame on 35mm film, which for the last 100 years has been a 24mm x 36mm rectangle.

That specific size of film seems a bit arbitrary, but there are two main reasons why this film became the industry standard:

  • Since 35mm film (paired with a standard 50mm lens) produces roughly the same field of view as the human eye, the images it produces are the most relatable to viewers.
  • In 1909, when the standard was set, it was more important to produce film that could be used in any common camera than for each brand to have its own propriety film size.

Though camera technology has made huge advances, the aspect ratio of the “film” used has needed no adjustment. As a result, both full-frame sensors and cropped sensors generally produce photos with the same dimensions.

Crop Sensor

Crop sensors are technically noted as APS-C sensors. The acronym “APS-C” stands for Advanced Photo System, type C, but that is a topic for another article. For the purposes of this article, those terms are interchangeable.

The term “crop sensor” is also a bit misleading. The “crop” is just a way to describe the reduction in the field of view, compared to that of a full sensor. Think of this reduction in terms of zoom; a crop sensor will take the same shot as a full sensor, only as if it had a slightly longer focal length from a zoomed lens (trading wide field of view for a longer reach.)

The aspect ratio is roughly the same as a full frame sensor, but if you were to compose the same shot with the two sensors, the image from the crop sensor would appear to have been zoomed, or cropped. Hence the name.

Check out this charts as a comparison with the full frame and crop sensor. 

Crop Factor

”Ok, so crop sensors increase focal length. How much “zoom” are we talking about?”

Most crop sensors will reduce the field of view by about 1.5. Put another way, a 50mm lens on a APS-C sensor would look as if it were a 75mm lens (50 x 1.5 = 75). This multiplier is the crop factor.

Each brand of camera uses a slightly different crop factor, but almost all APS-C sensors use a crop factor within the range of 1.3 to 1.7. This increase in focal length is neither a good nor a bad thing, by itself; its usefulness depends entirely on the type of shooting you do.

Head to Head

A “full” sensor refers to one that is the same size as one frame on 35mm film, which for the last 100 years has been a 24mm x 36mm rectangle.

That specific size of film seems a bit arbitrary, but there are two main reasons why this film became the industry standard:

  • Since 35mm film (paired with a standard 50mm lens) produces roughly the same field of view as the human eye, the images it produces are the most relatable to viewers.
  • In 1909, when the standard was set, it was more important to produce film that could be used in any common camera than for each brand to have its own propriety film size.


  • Though camera technology has made huge advances, the aspect ratio of the “film” used has needed no adjustment. As a result, both full-frame sensors and cropped sensors generally produce photos with the same dimensions.

Full frame advantages

  • Better in low light – A bigger sensor means less interference (noise) at high ISO ranges.
  • “Standard” focal length – Lenses and focal lengths are straightforward.
  • Larger sensors record more data, and more data commonly means sharper images and the ability to print larger photos without noticeable quality loss.

Full frame disadvantages

  • Size and weight – Larger sensors usually necessitate larger, heavier camera bodies.
  • Higher cost – Larger sensors are significantly more expensive.

Our Favorite Full-Frame Cameras:

Crop Sensor advantages

  • Bonus zoom – Increased focal length can be desirable in some circumstances.
  • Lower cost – Much more affordable to produce, and their dominance in the market further reduces retail cost.
  • Ease of use – Smaller sensors mean smaller, lighter, more portable cameras.

Crop Sensor disadvantages

  • Less versatile – Smaller sensors are less capable in low-light conditions. You’ll be more limited by A) the environment, or B) extra equipment to produce better light.
  • “Mental math” is sometimes required to determine your actual focal length. This is mainly an issue for professional photographers using a variety of lenses on one camera body.

Our Favorite Crop Sensor Cameras:

Which is right for you?

Given the inherent pros and cons for each type of sensor, it’s a bit easier to understand which situations benefit from each sensor.

For example, full frame cameras have a wider field of view, produce slightly sharper photos, and are more capable in low light. This makes them most useful for landscapes, architecture, and conditions where the available light is not in the photographer’s control, such as at large events.

  • Weddings, events, large print media, and wide-angle shots.

    Crop Sensor cameras are most useful for telephoto work (such as when shooting sports, wildlife, portraiture, or for journalism.) Hikers, portrait photographers, and casual point-and-shooters get the most out of crop sensors. The extra reach of crop sensors also benefit macro photography.


    • Macro photographs, portraits, small print media, and images meant for use on social media.

    Take-away questions

    With a solid understanding of each type of sensor, you’re now fully equipped to choose the right one for you. When you start searching for your next equipment upgrade, these 3 questions will guide you to the right choice:

    1. What is my budget?

    2. What kind of photography do I want to do?

    3. Given the answers to 1 and 2, would I be better served by a specific lens, or by a new camera body with the right sensor, or both?


    Have you decided that a full-frame camera is the right choice for you, but you are reluctant to carry around a bulky, heavy camera? Don’t fret. You might be the perfect candidate for a mirrorless camera.

    Camera technology has seen many advances, but the biggest leap in recent years is the advent of mirrorless cameras. Mirrorless digital cameras occupy the full range of use, from high-end professional photography, down to weekender’s point-and-shoots.

    Without the mirror and mechanical switch to control it, mirrorless cameras tend to be both smaller and lighter than their mirrored counterparts, without sacrificing image quality. Check out our full rundown of mirrorless cameras

    How To Break The Ice (Before Photo Shoot)

    How To Break The Ice (Before Photo Shoot)

    Getting your portrait taken is an extremely vulnerable position to be in.

    It can be stressful, uncomfortable, and frankly quite intimidating. Whether you’re shooting a family portrait, corporate headshot, or big time celebrity, we all have our insecurities.

    And when it comes to holiday photo shoots, the stakes are often raised: people are stressed out, there are a million things on their calendars and to-do lists, babies are crying, you name it.

    It’s your job as the photographer to recognize that, disarm the situation, and get your subjects to enjoy themselves and have FUN. Make this shoot the most lighthearted and memorable part of their week.

    I always try to stop whatever I’m doing when my subject arrives. I sit down with my clients in my studio or on-location and have a bagel or coffee and do everything I can to find common ground.

    Especially the type of common ground we can laugh at.

    You have screaming toddlers at home? Me too! You like the beach…me TOO, I grew up on surfing the waves. You like smoking cigars? I’ve got a great one you should try.

    I try to have a good laugh with my subjects before I ever put a camera between us.

    Start a photo shoot off laughing and chances are you’re going to hit a home run.

    Here are five easy, practical things you can do to make your holiday clients and families feel more comfortable (so you can take amazing photos of them):


    1. Genuinely compliment your subjects immediately.

    One of the first things I do when my subjects walk in the door to my studio is find something I can GENUINELY compliment about them. But be careful – this has to be from the heart. Maybe it’s their eyes, eyelashes…or even their shoes. FIND SOMETHING.
    This will disarm them right away and you’ll notice that they start acting more comfortable with you.

    2. Stop & deeply connect with your subjects.

    Stop whatever you are doing to set up and take a few minutes to break the ice. I take some time to sit down, look them in the eye, and in a lighthearted curious way ask them ice breaker questions. Where are you from? Tell me about what you like to do for fun?

    I then tell them something vulnerable about myself that helps them let their guard down and trust me more. Don’t drop a bomb on them like “when my father-in-law passed away,” but instead make it lighthearted like “I canNOT figure out what to give my Aunt Susie for Christmas” or “I got a speeding ticket the other day…” Everyone can relate. Find some common ground. Before you know it, you’ll be swapping hilarious childhood memories.

    If it’s a family, I also try to connect with their kids during this time. I’ll get down on their eye level, make some really silly dad moves and jokes to get everyone feeling connected as a family.

    Note that we haven’t even started talking about the photo shoot yet.

    This time is about breaking down defenses and getting know each other as vulnerable humans. Helping them trust you.

    3.  Make them feel beautiful.

    Even if your technical settings are perfect, the background is stunning and the shot looks incredible, if your subject doesn’t feel beautiful…chances are they won’t like the shot. When you are shooting portraits the way your subject feels will determine how great the shot is. Don’t say things like “oh that looks bad” or “OOPS” or “this doesn’t work.”

    Too many photographers spend too much time focusing on their settings than they do affirming or directing their subjects in a positive way.

    Regardless of what the last shot looks like…let them know THEY look awesome. This comes back to finding stuff you can genuinely compliment them on. Keep repeating step 1 above throughout the rest of the session. When they feel like they look beautiful, they will look beautiful.

    Even if you’re not in love with the shot or their pose…tell them you love their dress and how you loved it when you were standing at such-and-such an angle.

    DO NOT SAY I hate this angle on you…or that dress makes you look fat. Always try to be encouraging…and work towards a great shot. Even if you haven’t achieved it yet, keep encouraging everyone until you have some gold. I will sometimes take 300 shots of them doing the same thing until I dial it in and get one incredible shot.


    4. Have a list of jokes handy.

    Seriously…keep the fun going. It’s the holidays after all, and people are stressed! Remember, your goal is to make this session the most fun and memorable part of their week.

    Naturall, I am a cheesy joke collector…but my friend Jeremy Cowart told me a few years ago that he starting writing down jokes and keeping a list of them on his phone for easy reference. The jokes I have stored are TERRIBLE…which is great for my personality. They almost aren’t funny by themselves but when I laugh at my own dad jokes – that’s where the comedy is. It breaks the tension for them and gets their mind off of other stressors, insecurities, etc.

    Humor is definitely a learned skill for some people and for others it comes naturally. I’ve had to work really hard at it but I can disarm a room fairly quickly now with terrible puns…because I’ve spent thousands of hours practicing. 😜


    5.  Thank them from the heart.

    Most of the time your subjects/clients are going to thank you for your time or expertise. But I try to close the shoot with a genuine attitude of gratitude. I thank them for trusting me to do this for them. I tell them how much fun I had and if it’s true…that I’m honored to work with them to capture beautiful images for whatever project we’re on.


    Last But Never Least

    Word of caution with all of these steps above: BE GENUINE. People can sniff a fake miles away.

    Practice remaining positive through tough shoots with crying toddlers, offering encouragement at every turn, and finding real things to compliment about the people in front of you. People (almost) always love unsolicited genuine affirmation. Practice giving it freely.

    You may even find it making YOU more merry this holiday season.


    If you’re ready to start pursuing YOUR photography dreams today, check out my FREE training that will equip you to Show Your Camera Who’s Boss. People who take my free training walk away a more confident camera user and better photographer. JOIN ME HERE!



    What do you do to make your subjects feel more comfortable during a holiday photo shoot? Anything I missed?