Digital Photo Academy

Learn How To Use Your Digital Camera

DPA Magazine


  Is there something interesting (e.g. a fern or another, nearby flower) that you’d like to be in focus or that you want out of focus?   If the former, use a small (f16) aperture.   If the latter, use a large aperture (f2.8).  .  A slight shift in the position of the camera can help create a “stacking” effect of blurred blossoms in front of and/or behind the flower in sharp focus.  And, such a slight shift can eliminate a distraction from the background. If there’s a lot of green foliage in the shot, it often shows best with about a -2/3 exposure adjustment.  The best camera angle is usually to get low—close to the level of the flower.  Shots from too far above, “looking down” at the flower, are seldom compelling.  Shots made from the level of the blossom, or even on your belly or your back (looking up) can often be more dramatic.   Or, try laying the camera on its “back,” with the lens pointing skyward, among some flowers and capture the  “worm’s-eye view” of the underside of the flower against the sky (pre-focus and then use the camera’s self-timer for this and dial in a “minus” exposure adjustment to under expose since the bright sky may tend to “fool” the camera’s internal meter).  


  This helps “separate” the subject from the background, rendering a blurred background. Or, try a “macro lens,” extension tubes or a quality “close-up filter” to achieve close focus. Before “settling in” and going for your great shots of that flower, take several quick test shots and review them on your camera’sLED screen to be sure you’ve got the exposure correct and you’ve got just the right amount of blur or sharpness that your seeking with regard to your subject and to the elements in the foreground or background. Then, fine tune your adjustments, perhaps retest again, and then go for it! Focus carefully on the flower (or the precise part of the flower) that you want to be tack sharp.  It’s best to turn off the “auto focus” feature and manually focus until your eye confirms that the spot you want to be sharp is now in focus.  Or, set your camera’s auto focus control to a single point and be sure that point is on the part of the flower that you want sharpest when you press the shutter.   


  In either mode, select an aperture for the amount of depth of field you desire for the shot: - Use a wide aperture (e.g. f2.8 or f4) for shallow depth of field to blur the area in front of and in back of the subject. - Use a small aperture (e.g. f16 or f22) for deeper depth of field so that foreground and/or background object remain sharp (or somewhat sharper)   To avoid "camera shake" spoiling your image, try: - Using a fast shutter speed (1/500 or even faster), or - Using a tripod, or if not available, bracing the camera against some object (e.g. fence post), or - Setting your shutter to the "burst" setting, which fires off several frames rapidly when you depress the shutter (often one or more fraes of the burst will be sharp).   Consider adjusting the ISO setting to achieve the aperture/shutter speed combination you desire. Remember the "triangle" (the interdependent relationship) between ISO, shutter speed and aperture.  

Be Mindful

Be Mindful © Joe Robbins Most important aspect of shooting these guys is plan ahead for a quick escape, should you need it.  Don't push your luck.  Stay your distance.  Use a longer lens. Move slowly. © Joe Robbins

A More Personal Vantage Point

If there is one thing out there that is photographed heavily, it is our pets. Every pet owner from Aunt Sally to your neighbor Chris all take pictures of there pets, the trick is to do it better then every one else! I love animals, always have always will. But if there is one thing that gets me, it's the same cliche photo of someone's cat or cute dog taken 30-feet away from a high view point. Why, because that's where the photographer was standing when they saw their pet playing with a ball of yarn or a butterfly. Well folks it's time break that habit, I mean - they are your pets - they know you! Get in there and get personal! My main tip for this situation is get on there level don’t always photograph from the standing up perspective, or bird's eye view. One sure way to make a picture better is get on the same level as the subject you are photographing. Here is my 14-week-old puppy, Jiro, enjoying the summer sun in my living room. For this picture, I got on the ground and zoomed in with a 200mm lens to get a shot of him relaxing. Very simple and yet very effective.  

Nearby Sites

The cars are just about the only reference to urbanization, aside from what is sold in the stores, but the stores are in the old buildings so everything blends well.  And there are no Gap, Banana Republic, Barnes & Noble franchises. We found a car that was slightly larger to use for our day trips. I am not sure I can fit in one this size, but all the townspeople seem to. We will have larger sedans, with drivers, who know the area and the back roads. One of the photogenic settings that is a quick ride from Viterbo, in this case about an hour, is Pitigliano, where a synagogue was once the center of the Italian jewish community. It included a slaughter house where Rabbi’s made sure that the process was kosher, a bakery for making matzoh, a school and every other service needed for a thriving culture to be maintained. There was harmony in the city, amongst jews and non-jews, until the Romans came and drove the jews to a ghetto outside of the city border. Christians came to the aid of the oppressed people, overpowered the Romans, and all was restored. Over the centuries though, the synagogue and its complex of services and goods were abandoned but now all is restored magnificently. Photo Ops abound. We will bring in models to accessorize the walk way and allow silhouettes that create an elaborate narrative. The wall just as we entered Pitigliano where the stores offer a variety of still life portraits as well as images of the people who work there. The wall, as many others, is a photo op in and of itself.   Imagine the Etruscan ruin nestled amongst the foliage of a thousand hues when the change of season is happening during our visit. The town is a bit hilly, making for many interesting angles from which to photograph. (Good exercise as well.)  A good thing that your digital SLR will allow you to delete because you will want to make photos every step of the way. In the evening you can make your final decisions when we are talking about choices in editing to make a cohesive portfolio.   Everywhere you point your camera you see only traces of the past. No worries about a GAP Sign interfering with the shot.  Sometimes stairs themselves are the photo op and other times it is where they lead to.   The view from one of the several museums, a casual looks out on an old castle. The windows open and frame the view. The city is lit for evening activities and offers a different kind of photo op. As we made our way up to the country farm.. Its the country farm that Gianluca invited us to. He picked us up at our hotel and we drove for about 20 minutes, to an old dirt road. After about a ½ mile, we came upon the “country farm” with a swimming pool, an orchard of olive trees and the house that was refurbished for parties and casual weekends. The entire 40 acres overlooked a spectacular expanse, peppered with structures that have been there for centuries and centuries. This is the view from the “country farm.” The two girls are our daughters, Sally and Eve. During change of season, the view will come alive. A 10 minute drive from Viterbo is Belvedere su Lago. When we visit, there will be hand gliders that launch from this spot and the foliage and trees below will be the colors of fall, adjacent to a placid lake off to the left. Picture the bright colors of the gliders in their flying contraptions, set against the panorama off to the distance. There’s the lake. After visiting the lake where we will photograph the gliders, we stopped here on our way back to Viterbo for a tour of the architecture.   We spent a lovely afternoon here. This is what the area must have looked like back in the 13th century. When the Popes, elites and other aristocrats lived in Vitebo, from the 11th to the 14th century, it was the place to be and so wealthy patrons build gardens, castles and curious tributes to their loved ones. We will bring models here as well as to other sites for our photo shoots.

Viterbo: The Story

That’s my wife, Jill Enfield, taking a shadow photo of the two of us, in Viterbo, a preserved Walled City from Medieval times, about 60 miles NW of Rome. Check your history books, or history websites, to learn more about this picturesque locale, that during the 12th and 13th century, was the center of the Papal community. Clearly Viterbo was a wealthy town where the Popes and other aristocrats tributed themselves and their circles with spectacular buildings, parks, churches, piazzas, statues and other grand gestures. To this day all of it still exists in its original form and the townspeople are committed to keeping it that way. It is even better because within 20 minutes to an hour from Viterbo are a number of other destinations that were the place to go back then, for the Popes to keep themselves busy, and these wonderful communities are also available for the passionate photographer. Tourists ignore most of the places beyond Rome, Florence and other Italian cities that are popular destinations to Americans, which is good for us, so lets just keep this just between the 15,000 of us. That way our workshop stays on the less expensive side and we won’t have to worry about hordes of travelers messing up the photos. Back when I was at a large publishing firm, overseeing the magazines, American Photo and Popular Photography, (1992 or so, until 2006), Jill and I traveled to lots of great places in the U.S. and abroad, to run workshops which were announced in the magazines for the readers to purchase as a travel and photography lesson experience. Jill has a pretty big following in the world of photography. Check her website out at or search her on, to see her pair of 2 minute videos on Wet Plate Collodion Portraiture. In fact, we know lots of great photographers and have traveled with them for these workshops to lots of places. We have shadow photos of about 30 trips, from Frederick, Maryland, where I organized our own fireworks display for the the attendees to shoot, to Ireland where we arranged portrait shoots of Pulitzer prize winner, Frank McCourt who wrote Angela’s Ashes. Did some great environmental shoots with a sheepherder and his Border Collie as well. Unforgettable. So we have lots and lots of shadow photos from around the country and around the world. Since our 2 daughters were frequently with us on these photo workshops around the world, they are in a lot of the shadow photos too. In fact, now 17 and 20, they take their own shadow photos, on their own travel experiences. (A shadow photo website one day maybe?) Anyway, for this shadow photo, Jill and I actually were in Viterbo, because of our daughter, Sally. Sally, with the travel bug that we planted in her, almost at birth, decided that high school would be more interesting if she experienced it in Viterbo, instead of where we live in NYC. She found School Year Abroad, (, and back in August 2010, she began her junior year. SYA is wonderful, a non-profit program, not nearly as expensive as one would think, that finances 6 campuses around the world including, Italy, Japan, China, Vietnam, Spain and France. We have not been to the other SYA campuses, but we did fall in love with Viterbo, and have decided that we should begin the Digital Photo Academy experience abroad there. So come this fall, we are inviting all of you alumni to join us. We are thinking that we should set the trips up to take place, from around September 16 to October 18th, allowing 15 or 20 to join each back-to-back 8-day experience. When visiting Sally back in January we got to know her host family as well as a dozen or so of the other 47 host families where Sally’s classmates live. They all suggested the fall for the trips since the place comes alive with change of season colors. They have also been more than friendly and hospitable, inviting us to make photo shoots in the places they own or know the owners. Each day, we will have DPA teachers lead and instruct photo shoots with private access to historic monasteries preserved from hundreds of years ago, as well as country estates that sit above panoramic views of greenery, peppered with Etruscan ruins. At our convenience are luxurious restaurants where we can bring our lighting gear to shoot macro images of deliciously and beautifully prepared dishes and portraits of the chefs and interior shots of the rooms. Twenty minutes away is the Terme dei Papai,  a private spa that is not to be believed. Even the locals are friendly and happy to pose. Check out the snapshots,throughout this landing page, that we all took when we were there visiting Sally this past January. Even the grey skies at that time did not stop us from having a memorable experience. And since some of the classes will focus beyond the many variations of still photography, on the videos that the new SLR’s can take, we have a special feature to tie into the moving images theme. We are inviting lecturers from the motion picture world to talk about the art of making movies. Tying in with Italy, we have connected with Lisa Grootenbroer, one of the photo editors of the Showtime Series, Borgias, with Jeremy Irons, about the 16th century in and around Rome, when Pope Alexander IV’s lived and ran things with a mighty hand. Most of the tv show centers on Rome, but if you come to Viterbo you might agree that all of it could have been filmed in Viterbo. Lisa will give a couple of morning lectures about editing before we go off to our shoots. Roberto Schaeffer, Director of Photography for the Daniel Craig/James Bond movies has also e-mailed us to let us know how excited he is to join us and share stories and lessons of his shoots in Italy for the Bond Series. (He also was the DP for Finding Neverland and Monster′s Ball. He lived in Italy for 10 years so he should be a great inspiration. So look through the photos herein, e-mail us at with your questions. Maybe you will come along? Keep an eye out for Frequently Asked Questions - a link comign soon! In the meantime e-mail to the link above.

Viterbo: Inside the City Walls

This is the main entrance of Viterbo and we stayed a few blocks outside this city wall in a nice enough hotel. Day or night, no matter how many times I passed under its archway, it was a rush, each time we approached. About 50 feet high and a photo op in and of itself, the wall surrounds the medieval origins of Viterbo, and every cobblestone remains in place. So for where we will stay now that we know better, will be a number of bed and breakfast options, all within quick walks of each other. Every place we reserve is decorated with charm and attention to detail, as if photographers were expected to be appearing at any given moment. The inexpensive arrangements include beautiful private rooms, sitting areas, dining rooms, decks and views of Viterbo. Take a look at some that are within this bank of images. One of the beautiful restaurants and there are several different rooms, each with a different theme. The owners have welcomed us for an afternoon shoot, along with a great meal. The space offers indoor and outdoor shooting. And this is the outdoor space that is adjacent to the restaurant. It is actually a historic monastery and the restaurant opens up to this interior courtyard for many shooting options. This is the same space to provide a sense of the photo ops. And another angle. The Viterbo rain gutters are varied and plentiful, each more interesting and charming than the next.   Shadows interplay beautifully with the old stone buildings.  The interiors and exteriors of the row houses transport back to Medieval times at every hour of day, no matter what lighting is cast.   All of the cobblestone streets are beautifully preserved, just as every other detail of the city. Within the walls of the city, it is easy to imagine life there when Viterbo was a world class destination and the center of the Catholic religion. Popes were born there, they traveled there and the historical decisions were made there. This will be one setting for a model with outdoor lighting shoot. There are dozens and dozens of private gardens, some of which we will visit, others offering a view from a variety of vantage points. The light of this church is perfect for a making a dramatic photograph, focusing on a detail, a shadow, a model or just the windows. Every shop is a study in still lives and the proprietors will pose as well. We will bring lighting for these shoots. Whether you sit down for lunch in one of the many restaurants or want to pick up a quick  sandwich. Everything is fresh and delicious.        

Viterbo Lodgings

The San Pellegrino has 5 rooms and is a stones throw from the other B&B’s as well as little art galleries and one restaurant that butts up against a monastery. We chatted with the owners over lunch and we have private access to the various rooms and the interior courtyard. We will bring in lights and have a lesson in stills and moving images for macro photography of the food and architectural details of the space, as well as portraits of the chef, wait staff and owners. Click here to take a look at a few shots we grabbed and you will see what I mean. Another one of 4 or 5 bed and breakfast places where we will stay. The interior and exterior could be a movie set or an inspiration for a portfolio of stills. Again there will be lessons on both topics. The landlord, who is seen here climbing the stairs, is a great cook. The food, photo ops if you want, is all fresh ingredients and makes you wonder what we are eating here in the states. Check out the next photo where breakfast is prepared and served. When Jill and I walked into this breakfast room, we both agreed that the lighting from the skylight was perfect as is. Still life options abound. In a different way, but just as worthwhile, the ambience in this dining room is inspirational. We are reserving enough rooms in enough B&B’s for 15 or 20 guests at a time to be tended to by a staff that includes lecturers, instructors, fixers, producers, post capture artists and Jill and me. This means that we will exclusively occupy 3 separate B&B’s, each a 3 minute walk from the other and there will be no guests who are not part of our group, to keep the energy focused on the passion of photography. This room is pretty large and if we are up for it, we can have get togethers here for the whole group. Or besides dinner, we can have post capture and editing sessions here as long as you can remain awake. This is one of the main sitting rooms on the first floor and we are thinking that we can bring some models in, dressed in clothing from the 20’s or maybe earlier. Even without models, the space is great to relax in and photos are an added benefit.   One of the many B&B side areas that will serve well as portrait shooting sets. Or maybe you might put your camera down and do a little reading for a moment or two to relax. Same space so we can shoot close up or from a 15 foot distance. Another set to shoot if you are not too exhausted after the two productions of the day, and the morning lecture. Every night there will be editing, critiques and post capture discussions, though, so you can make the choice.  Anyway, you are hopefully getting a sense of the B&B ambience. A typical bedroom where each traveler will be. The rooms are authentically decorated but inclusive of comfort and modern conveniences. Note that it might have not been around when the structure was built, but Wifi is there now.   This provides a sense of how close the various B&B’s are from each other so it is convenient for meeting up for group activities. As a rule, we will be dividing the 15 to 20 people into two separate groups so the shoots don’t get too congested. The sets will be flip-flopped, each used twice so everyone gets a chance at everything. Evening and afternoon meals and lectures will be with the overall group but the post-capture sessions can be in small groups of 2 or 3 or as large as 6 or 7, nothing larger. In 8 days, everyone who wishes can have access to the expertise of our editing and post capture artists. And here is one of the editing session rooms. It opens to a huge terrace that seats about 60 people around a dozen or so tables and has a spectacular view of the city of Old Viterbo. The terrace will be great for lectures from, Roberto Schaeffer, Director of Photography of the Daniel Craig/James Bond flicks. Besides interesting anecdotes of challenging edits that he faced while on the Bond sets in Italy, Roberto lived in Italy for 10 years. He is excited to come back and share his knowledge and experiences. In between seasons, Lisa Groonbroer, a photo editor from The Borgias, a current SHOWTIME SERIES, will also be joining us to offer movie making insights to those interested in using the video features on their SLR cameras. Besides every category of still photography, there will be lessons on the art of making videos with this new breed of camera, whether it be travel, fine art, documentary or fantasy. The view from the terrace of the bed & breakfast where we will listen to lectures or enjoy an evening meal. Now you may have a sense of the energy and photo ops when we are not out and about. In the next bank of images on this landing page, get to know the locals, who are warm, friendly and always up for a photo.  

Street Portraits in Viterbo

Patrick is the director for the Viterbo campus of SYA, attended by 47 American high school students who live with 47 host families, including the Vitti’s who took on our daughter as a boarder for the 10 months of her junior year. It is through them and the other families that we will have private access to many different settings for our classes for making still and moving images. Even if the host families did not create private access for photos in restaurants,  spa’s, parks, churches and other great spaces, the streets and its strollers offer great photographs as well. This gentleman was about to step into his vehicle, where his wife was waiting but cheerfuly stopped to allow us to take his photo. A casual hangout with great music and great espresso. Sergio was always happy to see us and let us take his photo. The other patrons were also friendly and posed as well. Marco was at Sergio’s place each time we dropped in for an espresso. In the 12 days we were in Viterbo, back in January of this year, we met at least 25 people, young and old, who are looking forward to model for the group. There are also professional models who we will work with. One of the many stylish locals of Viterbo, at Sergio’s cafe. Notice any similarity in their hair styles? And another of Sergio’s patrons. Everyone who lives in Viterbo has a garden and they buy their supplies from this gentleman. The gourmet food is inexpensive and delicious. Again, the owners and general staff could not have been more welcoming.   Gourmet shops are everywhere in Viterbo as the case in each of the neighboring towns, allowing for charming environmental portraits, with and without people. The local bankers. A couple of guys on the street.   The local pharmacist. Just a friendly resident with her own style. Another restaurant, sleek and beautifully designed, with amazing food and beautiful décor. We had stopped in before “happy hour” began, at around 5:30 PM and the place was empty. Lorenzo served us and gave us as much as we wanted of each dish, one more delicious than the next. The bill was about 10 euro per person.  A night time meal and shoot here will be produced. It seems a number of restaurants have their own signature wine. An hour or 2 later, we were still there, and the place was still empty, but in came the owners. We sat and chatted and they are happy to provide the space for a meal and a photo shoot, at night. That’s me with Gianluca. He was patient with my efforts to speak the language. He seems to know everyone and every place in Viterbo and the locales within the surrounding 30 miles. You will become friendly with him and he has even offered to get the local fire department to pose for us since he is on the volunteer force. Here, where the bread for most restaurants is prepared and delivered to the cities restaurants and retail establishments, we will have environmental portrait shoots. You might sample the bread, called pizza, as well. Gianluca, brought us here on the way one morning, when he was bringing us out to a country farm, that belongs to a friend. The “country farm” was more like a high end country home, with 40 acres of greenery and olive trees, overlooking a panorama of forrest, accessorized by Etruscan ruins. This is the back room of a gallery which is the center of fine art in the area and we will be invited to events in the evenings if we have the time and energy. There is Gianluca again. With him is a local vintner, bringing a bottle of a new sparkling white wine. We all had a taste. Gianluca’s restaurant will be a frequent stop, right in the city next to all the other sites where we will be shooting. He will be open whenever we want even though lots of restaurants have the typical afternoon respite from commerce.   Gennelle comes from Africa and is making her future in Viterbo. We were all waiting for a local parade to appear. I was into it.

©2007-2018 Digital Photo Academy | How To Use Your Digital Camera
facebookdpa-80 black3