SmugMug rescues nearly 200 million priceless memories from Picturelife.

SmugMug has always embraced the mission of being Heroes for our customers—leaping tall buildings to make sure their photos are safe, beautiful and accessible. So, when we heard that Picturelife, a photo/video storage company, ended their service without a way for their customers to preserve their photos, we knew we had to do something (and fast) to help reunite the Picturelife community with their memories.


The SmugMug team offered its services to Picturelife and worked tirelessly over several weeks to develop and implement a plan to reconnect Picturelife files with their owners. As a service to Picturelife and its customers, SmugMug is now offering a zero-cost solution for Picturelife customers to access and download their photos and videos.

Our number one concern is putting as many Picturelife photos and videos as we can into the hands of their rightful owners. We’re making their photos available to them at no charge and no obligation.  If some of Picturelife’s former customers want to become a part of SmugMug’s family of photographers, we’ll welcome them with open arms, but that’s not our primary goal.  Helping Picturelife’s customers preserve their priceless memories is our goal and just another example of our mission and passion in action: providing a safe, beautiful home for everyone’s photos.

If you’re a former Picturelife customer looking to retrieve your photos and videos please visit our Picturelife FAQ page to get the process started.

Latest “gallery” hanging at SmugMug HQ – Bella Kotak!

The SmugMug headquarters can sometimes feel less like an office and more like an art gallery as you wander the halls and corridors. We have hundreds of photographs from our customers and employees hanging on our walls and are adding more all the time. Recently, we had the opportunity to hang some new images from Bella Kotak, whose unique style has earned her renown in the photography world. Blending her incredible portraits with editing and retouching mastery, Bella produces otherworldly images that can transport the viewer into a fantasy world of imagination and color.

untitled-8-2The photos ready for hanging!

untitled-16-2Sneak peeks of the gallery hanging.

IMG_1854No crooked photos on Brent’s (Facilities) watch!

untitled-27-2Straight as an arrow.

untitled-70Smuggy tape measure FTW!

untitled-68Bella’s gallery looks stunning!

Any time we get a new selection of photographs to hang, we like to make a little celebration of it and include folks from the office who want to have a chance to learn more about the artist and their work. Bella creates mystical worlds in her photographs. Playing with light and color, she weaves visual daydreams with evocative portraits of strong females submerged in incredible scenes and settings. Her images take you away, creating a story in your mind of the subjects or at least leave you with questions, wondering where the subject came from and what circumstances might have brought her here.

untitled-48It didn’t take long for the new gallery to gain attention.

IMG_1875The Bella Kotak Gallery is open for visitors!

IMG_1895The photos are a huge hit at HQ.

IMG_1909Mobile Apps Guy, Ian, plays docent.

untitled-22Director of Operations Shandrew takes it all in.

unspecified Haley from QA and Designer Chris are inspired to begin a career in modeling.

untitled-138The complete Bella Kotak Gallery at SmugMug HQ

Our passion for photography is what fuels our fire, and we’re incredibly proud to display inspiring images like Bella’s in our Mountain View headquarters. Visit Bella’s SmugMug site to see more of her work. If you’re not a SmugMug customer, Bella even has a sign-up special that will give new customers 15% off their subscription.


How I re-processed our famous San Francisco panorama.

by Head of Product, Aaron Meyers

It may be a 45-mile drive between SmugMug headquarters in Mountain View, California, and San Francisco, but when you walk into our headquarters you find yourself surrounded by sites of the city. The Bay Bridge, the Ferry Building, Coit Tower, and the Golden Gate Bridge all envelope you. You stare at a storm burning in the sky in front of you. But the sky isn’t really on fire: it’s a giant panoramic photo in our Media Room taken by SmugMug co-founder Chris MacAskill.

Over 23 attempts, Chris took 336 photos with a long, telephoto lens (the Canon 300mm f/2.8L for those lens junkies out there!) and his trusty Canon 5D Mark II, and he turned those two evenings into one of the most-visited photos on display in Silicon Valley. Featured in the San Jose Business Insider and the Huffington Post, this amazing wraparound print attracts visitors each week to see it and many more stunning photos at our headquarters.

01 - sf_panoSmugMug’s San Francisco Panorama

Originally printed in 2009, the past seven years haven’t been too kind to the image and it’s seen better days, most notably thanks to a pot of flying coffee. It was time to reprint and reprocess the photo using the latest Photoshop, Lightroom, panoramic stitching, and luminosity-masking techniques. That’s where I come in.

Over the course of one and a half months, I acquired the original RAW files from Chris, imported the photos into Lightroom, reprocessed each individual photo, stitched them into several panoramas, and blended various exposures together. It was a serious undertaking: three different software programs, various Photoshop filters, and many hours spent perfecting it. Let’s dive into how it was done.

Processing with Lightroom

The first step in reprocessing the panorama was importing the photos into Lightroom. Chris had sent me all the files as Canon CR2 RAW files with his edits saved as separate XMP sidecar files. I hate keeping extra XMP files, and I immediately converted the photos to Adobe’s own RAW format — DNG — which combines the RAW and edit information into one file. The XMP sidecar files were then deleted.

03 - lightroom_dngThe CR2 files were imported and converted to Adobe’s DNG format

Now it was time to start editing. The first roadblock I stumbled upon was figuring out how Chris photographed the image. When you create a panoramic photo, you start on one edge of the scene and then slowly move the camera left or right, then up and down. Each photo should overlap the previous one by at least 30% so one can match up the same features between photos. Overall, I had to sift through:

  • Two days of photos.
  • 36 slightly overlapping photos per pass.
  • Multiple passes of the same exposure as he tried to “get it right.”
  • Three different exposures (too dark, normal, and too bright).
  • Changing light as the sun moved closer and closer to the horizon and eventually disappeared.

To get a handle on the 336 photos that I was sorting through, I took advantage of Lightroom’s “stacking” feature. It allows you to group photos together in a stack that can be collapsed and expanded. This allowed me to group each pass of photos together. Each pass was photographed with the same settings (same shutter speed, ISO, and aperture) so they all looked the same. But each pass might be slightly different from the previous; for example, pass one might have used aperture f/5.6 while pass two used aperture f/9. I was going to edit every photo in a given pass the same, then repeat for each pass.

04 - lightroom_groupedThe photos were stacked into groups of 30 – 36, representing each pass.

Now that the photos were stacked into their groupings, it was time to start editing. Lightroom has a nifty feature that allows you to copy and paste your editing settings from one photo to the next. All I needed to do was edit one photo in each pass, then apply it to the rest of the photos in each stack. Canon 5D Mark II files have a hard time capturing really bright scenes and really dark scenes all at once (i.e., dynamic range), so I had to ensure I didn’t push the limits of each of these files. Luckily, Chris took bright and dark versions, which would later enable me to control brightness without pushing the files too much and avoid unnecessary noise in the image.

I left the white balance mostly the same, knowing I’d be cleaning up the color balance, temperature, and tint later. I focused mostly on extracting color and detail from the photo by increasing the contrast, clarity, vibrance, and saturation. I also slightly reduced the highlights to pull out some of the detail in the clouds while also increasing the whites so they still retained the look of clouds. I also brightened the city lights.

05 - edited_photoI edited each photo to bring out detail and color.

This is the point where I ran into my first unexpected bump (though easily surmountable). Chris initially made a common mistake — he photographed the pano in Aperture Priority mode. This means the camera’s sensitivity to light (ISO) and aperture (f-stop) were fixed but the shutter speed changed as the camera tried to guess the exposure. In theory, every photo would come out with the same brightness, but the camera was fooled in a few of the photos. Some of the individual photos in each pass were darker or lighter than others. I had to fix the exposure on each photo before proceeding, trying to get each photo to have almost the same exposure.

06 - different_exposuresThe photo on the left is darker than the right, requiring additional editing to match.

Some of the passes were done (as I would have hoped) in Manual mode, with the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO all fixed. The only problem is that taking 30+ photos takes time, and in that time the sun is setting and the sky is getting darker. If Chris started taking photos on the left (the Bay Bridge), by the time he got to the right (the Golden Gate Bridge), the sky would be much darker than when he began. I had to account for this as well and processed the photos so they’d have similar exposure.

Lastly, I wanted to get as much detail out of the sky as possible. That meant applying a gradient filter to the sky to increase its warmth, darken it, and bring out the midtones and darks in the sky by increasing contrast and clarity. The shapes of the storm clouds became more apparent and the clouds returned to a more natural-looking color.

07 - gradient_filter_appliedTop: the Gradient Filter is applied (in red).

Bottom: Extra details are pulled out in the sky and the purple color reduced.

Stitching with Autopano Giga

Once each stack of photos was processed in Lightroom, it became time to stitch the 30–36 photos into one, long panorama using an amazing piece of software called Autopano Giga. Let’s start by discussing a few key terms that are useful to know when stitching panoramas:

  • Projection: How the software maps a 3–D scene (San Francisco) into a 2–D image (our panoramic photo). Cambridge in Color has a great tutorial that’s worth reading if you want to know more.
  • Control Points: Spots identified on two or more photos that are identical. They’ll exist in different places in each photo, and by identifying where that specific point is on each photo, we can then align the photos. Control points can be the edge of a building, a boat, a tree, a door—anything you can identify as the same point in both photos.
  • Rendering: The final step of running all the mathematical calculations to determine how the pano will look. It performs a number of steps: warping, de-ghosting, exposure blending, color balancing, and much more before finally saving the blended panorama.

Photoshop and Lightroom can stitch panoramas, but there are a few reasons why I prefer Autopano:

  • Autopano lets you specify the number of control points each photo will find. The more control points, the less chance of “ghosting,” where two photos aren’t properly aligned which results in a blurring effect.
  • Autopano lets you manually add or adjust the points in case it guessed slightly wrong, which allows me to improve the accuracy of the stitch.
  • Autopano lets me change the projection on the fly, before rendering. This lets me figure out which projection will give the most realistic-looking photo.

The first step is to let Autopano detect the control points and then align the photo. It will then offer a preview of the stitch, while allowing me to add or edit control points, change the projection type, and more.

08 - autopano_projectionsAutopano lets me preview the stitch and change the projection type before rendering the pano.

Choosing different projection types lets me see which of the projections creates the most realistic-looking photo. Autopano initially suggested “Planar,” but I found that “Spherical” returned the best results. The planar version, which you see below, had too much bowing in the center. You’ll notice that the horizon line tilts downward as you move away from the center of the photo, something I wanted to avoid. The spherical projection had a straight horizon, exactly what I wanted!

09 - autopano_rendering

Autopano will render the image once all your settings are complete.

Once you’ve finalize the settings, Autopano renders the panorama into its final 400-megapixel image. Rendering a 400-megapixel image can take some time, but I borrowed one of SmugMug’s Mac Pro computers, and it whizzed through the calculations and saved the photo to an external hard drive.

Processing in Photoshop

With the photos stitched, it was time to bring them into Photoshop and begin fixing a few issues. The first problem to tackle was removing the purple and orange cast from the buildings. This appearance was due to the white balance of the sky but in reality, the buildings shouldn’t be this purple and lights shouldn’t be this orange. Using color-balance, hue-saturation, and selective-color adjustments, I was able to remove the purple and orange and warm up the buildings.

10 - remove_purple_and_orangeTop: The purple buildings and orange lights seem off.

Bottom: The odd colors are removed using several color adjustments.

Since the sky is a major part of this photo, I instantly noticed an interesting effect: the thickness of the clouds caused them to change in color from blue to purple. Even if this color variation was natural, it looked weird and needed to be corrected.

11 - color_variationSome parts of the sky will need color correction to get the colors to transition more naturally.

On closer inspection, I noticed that the spherical projection wasn’t quite perfect: at the edges of the photo, the horizon and the Golden Gate Bridge were slightly slanted. Using the puppet warp tool in Photoshop, I was able to straighten the edges that had bowed on the corners.

12 - fix_spherical_warpingTop: The spherical projection shows signs of warping at the edges.

Bottom: The puppet warp tool fixed the warped edges.

A few other things needed to be cleaned up in the photo: the city lights were brightened a bit, the clouds had extra detail returned in them, and shadows in the city buildings were pulled out in order to make them look less black. Trying to do all this manually would have been a great amount of effort; however, I let Photoshop do this for me automatically. Using luminosity masks, Photoshop can automatically select parts of a photo based on how bright they are, and then only apply changes to areas that have the detected brightness. Below you can see how Photoshop automatically detected the brightest parts of the photo, allowing me easily make changes to the city lights.

13 - luminoscity_mask_city_lights-1A luminosity mask was used to select only the brightest parts of the photo: the city lights.

The final step was to add sharpening to the photo. For this, I use the free plug-in from Nik software called Sharpener Pro 3. I just used the default settings to add a little bit of sharpness.

14 - Screen-Shot-2016-07-28-at-1.19.30-AMNik Sharpener Pro was used to add some extra sharpness to the photo.

The final image

With all the photos reprocessed, stitched, and then edited to perfection in Photoshop, we’re finally done! The final photo came out to a whopping 425.5 megapixels (67,683px wide x 6,288 px tall at 240 ppi).

Compare the original edit:

15 - sf_pano

To our final edit:

16 - IMG_9223_pano09_SphericalThe final San Francisco panorama.

Now, to hang this beauty somewhere where a pot of coffee can’t find it….

Three out-of-the-box uses for watermarks.

Watermarks are one of the most used tools in the photography industry. With today’s digital landscape, watermarking is one way photographers can protect images that often get scattered like the wind around the internet with no connection to the original owner. Making money from photo sales should never be in jeopardy and thanks to watermarks, photographers can share their work online to attract new clients with peace of mind. But watermarks can be much more than a stamp to deter theft. Let’s explore three other uses for watermarks you may not have thought about.

Use watermarks for client drafts.

Show of hands: how many of you have sent a draft to a client only to see it later shared online? Not only was the work unfinished (extra frustrating for perfectionists!), but possibly the client hadn’t paid for the digital copy yet. Using watermarks on drafts not only reinforces to the client the work is still in progress but also assists in unauthorized sharing. To ensure the watermark doesn’t inhibit the client’s ability to view the photo, try a bright, neon color (red, green, yellow) that doesn’t blend into the photo’s background and try an opaqueness of 80%.

IMG_2576-X3No one is sharing this draft!🙂

Try watermarks as a call to action.

Why not use watermark real estate as a call to action? Promote your website, Facebook page, Twitter handle, or even a hashtag! It’s a simple way to alert viewers where they can see more of your work, buy prints, or hire you. Have a social campaign you’re working on? Encourage others to share similar content for a cause or event by using a hashtag watermark. It’s a great way to not only encourage viewers to share the work on multiple networks, but it also allows for easy tracking to measure campaign popularity and reach. #Sweet.

14_08_KA_129-X3Photographer Ben Von Wong uses watermarks to share his URL

IMG_4243-X3Cool call to action to encourage concert goers to share their own photos

Turn watermarks into a printmark.

Hired for a fun event, concert, or company function? Use watermarking to printmark all photos! Give your photos the same professional look and feel that amusement parks, ski resorts, and zoos have been doing for years. This kind of custom microbranding is perfect for event photographers who want to highlight the time and place photos were taken for their clients.  Remember though, if you’re allowing your clients to order prints from your site, you might want to consider the printmark tool so your design stays on the photo through the printing process.

july_watermarkWatermarks as printmarks!

Interested in trying one (or all) of these ideas? SmugMug Portfolio or Business account plans include the watermarking tool feature. Don’t worry Basic and Power users — you can use programs (like Lightroom) to apply watermarks to your photos before uploading to SmugMug. You’ll find a handy-dandy step-by-step guide to using our watermarking tool here. Happy stamping!

A guide to the bang and flame: how to shoot fireworks.

By Andrew Tower

Summer means long days and warm nights, hamburger cookouts and sunscreen, pool lounging and ice-cold drinks. The peak of summer for me has always been the Fourth of July. Ever since I was a kid, I looked forward to grilling up some hot dogs and anxiously awaiting the evening’s fireworks show. From the subtle trail they leave after being shot from the earth to the spidery tendrils of light that burst at their crescendo, fireworks are dazzling. Starry-eyed and open-mouthed, lying on my back in the grass and absorbing the light show is tip-top of my summer checklist every year.

But capturing the event in photos can be a tricky, confusing process. Before I started working as a copywriter for SmugMug, I wasn’t regularly able to lean on the expertise of so many fantastic photographers like Head of Product, Aaron Meyers, who authored the pro tips below. If I had, I may not have spent the entirety of one New Year’s fireworks show adjusting, fixing, and panicking as I ruined shot after shot after shot with my ineptitude. My confidence was shattered as the finale began and I hadn’t taken one decent picture of the fireworks. With time running out, I made a few more adjustments and managed to snag one great photo as the very last firework took flight.

I want to save you from suffering the same fate, so I’ve put together a little step by step guide complete with my failed attempts to help illustrate the pitfalls and best practices for your very own fireworks photoshoot.

1. Get a tripod.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? You wouldn’t believe how many people you’ll see holding their digital cameras trying to capture the light show without a steady vantage. Fireworks are bright to our eyes, but the long exposure required to capture them clearly and in all their glory necessitates a solid, unmoving camera.

1 tripod

I wasn’t shooting with the camera in my hands, but I didn’t have a tripod and the upturned trashcan I was using instead wasn’t quite working as you can see from this blur-fest.

Pro tip: If possible, use a remote. It will cut down on small movements caused by manually taking a photo. Sounds minimal, but accidental blur happens no matter how careful you are.

2. Framing

If you have a general idea where the fireworks will be exploding, take some time to frame your images before it begins. Take special note of foreground to ensure nothing will obstruct your direct view of the fireworks. If you’re not trying to capture a specific landmark and want the fireworks to be the main focus of your image, try to find a location where you can shoot with an empty foreground. Pay special attention to the moon’s stage and position. The moon’s light can drastically alter your ability to capture both the fireworks and foreground if you’re trying to include it in your image.

2 bad-framing

What was I even aiming for? Poor framing didn’t even allow for the entirety of the firework in the image plus I chopped off part of a house.

Pro tip: If you’re photographing in a city, try to find a high vantage point that looks down on the city while also capturing the fireworks. If you’re at a beach, look for landmarks like a pier or natural elements like a tree to use to frame the photo.

3. Aperture

Because fireworks can and will burst in any direction, you’ll want to shoot at a higher aperture. Speed will be sacrificed in your exposures by letting less light in, but your depth of field will accommodate a broader focal area and help keep your images sharp. It will be a fully manual process, so you’ll want to change your camera into “manual” mode and set the aperture somewhere around F6–F12. Adjust and tweak to let more or less light into your shots depending on how bright the fireworks are.

3 aperture

Notice how neither the house nor the firework burst is in focus, but the hill behind them is slightly more in focus. The tight depth of field made it almost impossible to get right, so nothing turned out sharp.

Pro tip: Prime lenses (fixed focal length lenses) can often be found with apertures that go as low as F1.4 or F1.8. With such a wide aperture, capturing the bright lights of fireworks in the night sky will be much easier, but it will narrow your depth of field and be trickier to maintain overall sharpness.

4. Focus

Your autofocus probably won’t be able to find the right length in the dark, so focusing will likely be a manual process as well. Your focusing ring should have an infinity option that looks like ∞. After switching your lens from autofocus to manual focus, turn the focus ring to infinity and take a practice shot. Depending on the distance you are from your fireworks display, you may need to adjust the focus ring to slightly less than infinity to keep everything in focus. The higher aperture setting and bigger depth of field are more forgiving but take practice shots until you’re happy with the clarity and focus of your images.

4 focus

See? Just bad. Unfortunately, I have way too many of these examples from this shoot.

Pro tip: Set your focus using autofocus before it gets too dark. Focusing at night can be hard and trying to get focus in the half a second the firework bursts and gives off enough light will be hard. Once you’ve found the focus, switch the camera to manual focus and let it be.

5. ISO

In an ideal world, we’d always have enough light to shoot the sharpest images, but with fireworks, as with many nighttime shoots, that’s not always the case. Of course depending on the moon, the stars, light pollution, and your proximity to the fireworks you’re shooting, you’ll have to adjust accordingly. If you jack your ISO up too much, your images will be overexposed and may be unfit for printing or very grainy when blown up to bigger sizes. If you leave it too low you’ll end up with dark images that don’t show off the incredible fireworks.


Notice the grain on the left image, shot at ISO3200. When blown up for print that grain will severely detract from your image. On the right at ISO640, the sky is much more clear and grain-free.

Pro tip: Adjust ISO often throughout the fireworks display. As smoke fills the air, it’ll catch the light and brighten the scene. As a result, you’ll need to turn down the ISO. As the smoke clears away, turn the ISO back up. For the finale, you’ll want to turn the ISO back down.

6. Shutter

When shooting fireworks, the shutter speed can make or break a potentially great photo. We see and remember fireworks as dazzling explosions with brightly colored tendrils of light streaming toward the earth, but what your camera will see if your shutter is too fast, is just a single moment within that firework’s life in the sky. You’ll end up with a brightly lit photo and a polka dotted sky of firework sparks. Capturing the stream of light from the initial explosion through to a firework’s end requires a shutter speed as long as that firework is lit and in the air, typically 2-4 second exposures.

6 shutter

Look ma, no tails! Not only is it out of focus, but since the shutter speed was only about ⅙ second, I only managed to capture a short bit of the firework tendrils’ paths. Turns out pretty lackluster.

Pro tip: Set your camera to BULB mode and either hold the shutter down or use a remote shutter. Start pressing the shutter when the firework is launching, then let go when it’s exploded in the shape you want to capture. Adjust ISO/aperture as needed to get the right exposure.

7. Putting it all together and shooting!

Shoot throughout the entire fireworks show, constantly taking images and checking them. Review the histogram and look at the clipping to make sure you’re not blowing out the photo. Try to time your shots when you hear the firework ignition so you can capture the entirety of the explosion. Every fireworks location and vantage point will be different so be ready to adjust your camera on the fly as you review the images you’re capturing. With any luck, when you get home and have a chance to edit, you’ll end up with the perfect fireworks shot. (And hopefully for you, it won’t be the very last image you took during the show.) Happy shooting!

7 good one

Ooooohhh! Ahhhhh! This was literally the last firework of the entire show. Somehow I managed to frame it correctly including the scene around the firework, expose the background and foreground without being distracting, and catch the bright beautiful tails of the firework.

Pro tip: If you have access to photo editing software, you’ll get a lot more out of your photos in the editing process if you can shoot in RAW as opposed to hi-res jpgs. It will allow you to bring out more colors and brighten dark skies and stars while processing.

Andrew Tower is a copywriter at SmugMug in Mountain View and loves night photography despite struggling with it immensely.

Big thanks to Aaron Meyers who provided technical review and pro tips for this article. He is Head of Product for SmugMug and credits his firework photography as his foot in the door.

Shedding Light on Outdoor Portraits of People in Glasses

By Alexandria Huff

Alexandria Huff is a Marketing Coordinator for, where she is also the resident lighting guru. Visit her website to find more lighting tutorials, discounts on classes and camera gear, plus view her collection of chiaroscuro-style closeup studio portraits. She can be reached on LinkedIn and followed on Instagram.

In my Glare Aware Series, I cover the basics of avoiding lighting glare in photography. To recap, the following are essential lighting laws for working with reflective surfaces:

  • Broad Lighting vs Short Lighting

Short lighting is when your light is primarily illuminating the angle of the face that is far from the camera. Broad lighting is when your light is mostly illuminating the angle of the face that is close to the camera. Short lighting is harder to use on subjects wearing glasses than broad lighting. To learn more, see  Glare Aware Part 1.


  • Position Lights Outside the Family of Angles

Placing your lights at acute angles in reference to the subject (90º or less – think of on-camera flash as being 0º) is generally bad for glass and placing lights at obtuse angles (greater than 90º) is generally good. To learn more see Glare Aware Part 2.


  • Angle of Incidence = Angle of Reflection

For the most part, light travels in a straight line. If you position your light toward glass at a 45º angle, the reflection will be apparent in your image if your camera is also positioned at 45º on the opposite side. To learn more, see  Glare Aware Part 3.

These tips are well suited for controlled environments – studios and homes. When you step outside the comfort of a room, the lighting laws are a little less clear. After frequent requests, I am sharing a few of my go-to tricks for troubleshooting stubborn eyeglass reflections when shooting outside.

Combating Glare in Eyeglasses for Outdoor Portraits

Shooting subjects wearing eyeglasses outdoors poses particularly vexing problems. It can be really hard to eliminate all direct reflections coming from pavement, the sky, and other shiny objects that are out of your control.

Some articles suggest that your subject either remove their glasses (not always an option) or that you should choose a different environment or optimal time of day to shoot in. It is good to know what to do even in adverse conditions, however. Here are three things I did to reduce glare while shooting glasses outside on a very bright day near a home with plenty of reflective objects. Practice these to improve your skills and reduce panic when troubleshooting these problems during a live shoot.

Tip #1: Absorb Reflections with a Black Flag


Black objects produce little diffuse reflection and do not scatter light like white objects. Using a black flag (as part of a scrim or reflector kit) will reduce reflections coming from our subject’s glasses. It also acts as camouflage for your camera when shooting directly into a subject with glasses.

Black will also absorb light so expect to lose a stop of exposure. Use exposure compensation or bump exposure in post production. If you’re shooting RAW, you’ll have a lot of latitude to adjust exposure while editing.

Tip #2: Fill Reflections with Artificial Lighting

Strobes are used outdoors to “overpower the sun,” which is a method of intentionally underexposing your ambient light and using artificial light on the subject to compensate. You can also use strobes to overpower reflections.

In tip #1, I filled my reflective object with a light-absorbing black flag. Now I am using an opposite approach by filling the reflective object with light. Light reflects off shiny surfaces at about the same angle as they are struck. Position your light so that the reflection is reasonably predicted to fall away from your lens. Make sure your light is close enough to your subject to fill the surface of the eyeglasses. The eyeglasses, as a whole, are now brighter and the light obscures the specular, distracting reflections of your environment.


Tip #3: Change the Angle of the Reflective Object

In any shoot, there are three positions that can be adjusted to avoid glare:

  • The position/angle of your light.
  • The position/angle of your model.
  • Your shooting position.


Unless you’re using strobes, changing the position of your light outdoors is hard – especially if you’re constrained by when and where you have to shoot since you’re depending on the sun. Your subject can tilt their head at certain angles, upward or downward, to reduce eyeglass reflections but these positions aren’t always flattering. If you find yourself in this rut, tilting the eyeglasses themselves helps.

As with head angle, tilting glasses isn’t always flattering. It depends on the shape of the glasses, how long the subject’s hair is, etc. Your mileage may vary.


Bonus Tips

Bonus #1: Telephoto Lenses

Lens distance matters. A longer lens is going to produce a smaller viewing angle than a wide one. Smaller viewing angles cause fewer direct reflections than larger ones.

Bonus #2: Polarizing Filters

Polarizing filters manage reflections coming from most non-metallic surfaces but you also lose stops of light and a certain natural reflectance of skin that can leave your subject looking flat overall. Experiment accordingly.

Bonus #3: Photoshop

Getting it right in-camera will save you time and hassle afterward. But not everything always goes to plan.


Sometimes, a personal favorite shot just doesn’t quite ever get the right blend of good posing plus proper glare-avoiding angles. You can resort to Photoshop for these times. It is a tool like anything else.

Add your own bonus tips for overcoming difficult reflection situations when shooting outdoors in the comments below. Be sure to check out the rest of the Glare Aware Series:

Glare Aware: Photographing Portraits of People in Glasses

The Art of Copy Work: Photographing Artwork Accurately Without Glare

Bouncing Off the Walls: Lighting, Glare, and Shadows When Photographing Interiors

Photo archaeology: How to organize, upload, and share 20 years of photos

By Ben MacAskill, Head of SmugMug Customer Success

As head of Customer Success at SmugMug, and an employee for almost 13 years, I’ve seen my fair share of large digital projects from customers over the years.  Recently however, I spearheaded my own photo archaeology project at the very special request of an individual needing some unique assistance. It seemed like a daunting task at first: 500 GB of images (over 130,000 images, to be exact) needing to be organized and uploaded. I also came into the project blind no idea what the content was and where it was sourced but in the end, had 65 organized galleries uploaded to SmugMug in less than a week. If you’re facing a project that seems overwhelming, I’m here to tell you it’s not. Let me show you how I was able to do this and how you can as well.

One of the first hurdles that many fear to tackle when dealing with a large image organization project is how scattered the image locations most likely are. In my circumstance, they were scattered like the wind: 100 photo CDs, seven hard drives, 30 photo libraries, and 30 floppy disks. And that’s just the digital images! I also had seven boxes of prints and several reels of film to include as well. In total I was dealing with 20 years of precious family photos. To make the process as easy and uniform as possible, gather together everything you might have to tackle.


20 years of photos quite the journey back into time


A fraction of the storage locations of the 500 GB of images

Once you’ve collected all of your image sources, it’s time to begin uploading. It took me two long, 12-hour days of centralizing to one location on my computer for 500 GB worth of data. While tedious, you will find your rhythm and become a repetitive machine by the end. I suggest listening to some music while you work to help ease the boredom. If you have files on old technology, such as floppy discs, Zip discs, etc, but no longer have the proper computer equipment to access them you will need to buy a portable disc drive for whatever older technology your images are stored on. I purchased what I needed very easily and cheaply online  there are lots of online vendors that can assist you with this after a quick Google search.

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The grand total of all digital images

Now, for the heavy lifting portion of the project. Just kidding! Adobe Lightroom and SmugMug’s Lightroom plug-in will do all of the heavy lifting for you. I suggest you let Adobe Lightroom build the catalog and also delete any duplicate photos overnight then in the morning when you wake up you will find the majority of the organization done for you. Why use Lightroom? It’s an easy way to simplify your workflow. It saves time by managing your SmugMug site directly, allowing you to create Folders and Galleries through its Publish service. It also is perfect for easy image retouching. If you are unfamiliar with Lightroom, you can find out more about how it uploads and sync photos to SmugMug here.

Now that we have a gorgeous catalog without duplicates, we will begin uploading to SmugMug via our Lightroom plug-in. You can learn how to install (or update) the Adobe Lightroom plug-in here. I highly suggest you set your privacy settings before uploading, in case you might have anything sensitive or personal in the photo library. I decided to catalog the images by year to make the family history easily searchable and recommend the same if you are dealing with a similar project spanning many years.

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Adobe Lightroom and SmugMug’s Lightroom plug-in make organization and uploading a piece of cake

In regards to the seven boxes of prints and video reels I sent them to our friends over at ScanDigital to digitize. It was quite a large amount and took them a month to complete, but they sent completed work in batches via hard drive during that timeframe. There is no metadata attached to these photos, so these photos will require some manual organization, but it is far from taxing. A big thank you to them for doing a stellar job. If you would like to check out their services, they are offering a 20% discount to SmugMug customers with the code SMUGBLOG.

In the end, I had 65 searchable galleries with very little manual organization on my end I barely broke a sweat. But SmugMug offers much, much more than a digital storage solution for your family photo archive. It’s a wonderful way to share moments with friends and family far away. Our privacy options allow you to decide who can see your precious intimate memories. Our photo tagging solution allows you to add keywords to photos and galleries, allowing for quick search and discovery. We also have many wonderful photo partners to choose from when it’s time to print out key memories for home display or gifting. SmugMug isn’t just for photographers it’s for all memory makers.

Anyone with a little time and patience can organize and share decades worth of family photos, or any large image collection. I hope this inspires you to tackle your own personal project that you’ve been procrastinating. Photos are meant to be showcased and shared, not hidden in a box in the attic.