Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Design > Adobe Photoshop

Get Your Picture Perfect—No Photoshop Required

Photoshop offers incredible tools for correcting and adjusting exposure, tone, and color. However, very often an image is unusable not because of problems with its exposure or color, but because it's poorly composed. In this chapter, you'll learn how—by employing a few good shooting habits and paying more attention when shooting—you can get your compositions right in the camera, and avoid a trip to your image editor.
This chapter is from the book

THE OLD SAYING "what you see is what you get" (WYSIWYG) comes to mind every time I click the camera's shutter in front of a scene like the one in Figure 3.1. If only it were true. When it comes to digital photography, the more likely experience is, "what you see is more or less what you get" (WYSIMOLWYG). That's oftentimes my reality.

Figure 3.1

Figure 3.1 All too often, what you get is not what you see. Look at the camera's LCD. This is a good example of WYSIMOLWYG, or "what you see is more or less what you get."

If I want to capture what I see, or as close to that as possible, I must make some good decisions prior to shooting. I'll base these decisions on what I see, how I see it, how I want to interpret it and, ultimately, how I want others to see it.

Unlike the landscape painter who very carefully considers the scene behind his canvas and then expresses those impressions with his brush, the photographer is forced to make critical decisions in an instant. He must understand the light; he must focus selectively, frame effectively, and accurately expose the image. All of these decisions must be made in a short period of time, and there's usually only one chance to make them right. The photographer may not get a second chance, because conditions may have changed from one moment to the next.

I, like most photographers, want you to read my photographs in the way I intended. I want to influence your interpretation. I may want you to reach many of the same conclusions I did—to enjoy the scene I've photographed, to learn from it, be moved by the moment—or perhaps I have another goal in mind. I also want you to be able to interpret the image and take from it what you want. To accomplish any of these goals, the right choices must be made.

Photographing What We See

Photoshop offers incredible tools for correcting and adjusting exposure, tone, and color. And it provides the ability to create retouchings, composites, and selective edits that would be impossible using film and a darkroom. However, very often an image is unusable not because of problems with its exposure or color, but because it's poorly composed. In fact, a well-composed image that has exposure or color problems is often much more interesting and usuable than a perfectly executed shot of a boring composition.

With a Crop tool, like the one found in Photoshop, you can often correct or "re-compose" your images after-the-fact. By changing the crop of a picture, you can focus the viewer's eye, and change the balance of the elements within your frame. Of course, cropping requires a trip into your image editor, something we're trying to minimize.

By learning a few shooting habits, and paying more attention when shooting, you can get your compositions right in the camera, and avoid a trip to your image editor.

In this chapter, we'll be looking at a few things you need to keep in mind to get the best shot that you can straight out of your camera.


Every picture has its own compositional needs, so it's difficult to lay down hard-and-fast "rules" of composition, but there are some guidelines you can follow.

  • Guide the viewer's eye. A good composition is one that helps the viewer's eye find its way. Lots of things will attract the viewer's attention, from changes in contrast or color to the arrangement of foreground and background elements. When composing, your goal is to manage these elements so as to lead the viewer through your picture to your subject.
  • Build from left to right. Westerners tend to "read" a photo from left to right, just as they read text from left to right. So, if all of the interesting parts of your image are on the left-hand side, the viewer may not pay much attention to the rest of the scene.
  • Create balance. If you have a close up of a lion's head in the lower-right corner of your image, then you'll usually need to balance this strong element with something in the opposite corner. You don't have to create balance with a similar element. Open space, a strong color, a bright highlight—all of these elements can serve to balance each other.
  • Think in thirds. Imagine your image divided into a grid that is three rows high and three columns tall. If you place the elements of your image at the intersection of these grid lines, you'll usually get a fairly well composed shot.
  • Watch for juxtapositions. We've all suffered from this mistake. You shoot a beautiful portrait outdoors, and only when you get home do you realize that your subject has a telephone pole sticking out of their head. Remember: images are flat! You need to pay attention to how the 3D world you're living in will be squished into a flat image.

Check Your Edges

One of the easiest ways to improve your compositions is to pay attention to the edges of your frame. Line up your shot the way you want it, then take a moment to trace your eyes around the edge of the frame. Paying attention to your image's edges will help you spot bad juxtapositions, and will help you see your image more objectively, making it simpler to spot compositional troubles.

Choosing an exposure

Once you've framed your shot, you're ready to meter. Press your shutter button down halfway to tell your camera to meter your scene. If your composition is dependent on depth of field control—maybe you want to blur out the background to bring focus to your subject—then you'll need to modify your camera's meter reading to opt for a larger aperture.

As discussed in Chapter 2, you might need to change your camera's shooting mode to a priority or manual mode, or use a special portrait mode to achieve the depth of field effects that you want.

Adjust Your Exposure

If your scene contains things that are really dark, then you will need to use your camera's Exposure Compensation control to underexpose your image slightly, to render the dark things with their true tone. Similarly, if you're shooting things that are really white, then you'll need to overexpose.

Exposure Compensation allows you to easily dial in these over-exposures and underexposures, even if you're using another control to manage your depth of field concerns.

If you apply proper compensation to your exposure, then the light and dark tones in your image will be accurately exposed, saving you the trouble of making tonal adjustments later in Photoshop.

Use your camera's histogram and metadata

Fortunately, with a digital camera you don't have to do as much guesswork as you had to do with film. Thanks to your camera's LCD screen you can easily check your composition as soon as you shoot, while your camera's built-in histogram display and metadata screens allow you to make an informed assessment of your exposure decisions. To go even further, try a tethered system that connects a camera to a computer monitor. In addition to giving you more information about your images, these tools—used effectively—can save hours of work in Photoshop later on.

The liquid crystal display (LCD) is not a WYSIWYG device. It is a WYSIMOLWYG device, and a rather small one at that (Figure 3.2). Still, we could hardly get by without them. Thanks to LCDs, photography is now practically real time: We can preview our photographs almost instantly on the back of our digital cameras. For better or worse, LCD screens allow the photographer to begin the process of editing almost immediately after the photograph is taken (Figure 3.2). We have the ability to do timely, effective, almost real-time editing as well.

Figure 3.2

Figure 3.2 The LCD gives you a very small preview of what you'll see on the computer display and the final print.

However, many photographers make snap judgments based on what they see on the back of their digital camera, and often those decisions are wrong. The image is so very small on an LCD, and viewing conditions may be challenging. Coupled with the fact that most cameras boost the contrast and saturation of their LCD images to make them visible in bright light, judgments may be skewed. Sometimes a photographer moves too quickly to delete images, based on what he perceives to be a mistake and attempts to recover that data may prove difficult or impossible.

The LCD is a useful tool to check that your image is in focus. This takes time, however, and is usually not advisable after the shooting session begins. But the time you spend looking at your LCD is time spent away from making photographs. If you're looking at the back of your camera, you're not following the action in front of the camera (Figure 3.3). Performing such tasks as zooming in and out on a captured image can interrupt the rhythm of seeing and capturing images in an effective way. The playback zoom—the one on your LCD used for reviewing images—is much better used for test images, taken before the shoot even begins, so that you'll be confident that your images are focused well (Figures 3.4 and 3.5). Or use the playback zoom after your photo session has ended to confirm that you got the results you wanted.

Figure 3.3

Figure 3.3 Once you push this button, it will be next to impossible to recover the images you've just eliminated.

Figure 3.4

Figure 3.4 Most digital cameras allow you to magnify an image with the simple click of a button.

Figure 3.5

Figure 3.5 Magnifying an image allows you to make sure your image is in focus.

LCDs can also be helpful for bracketing your exposures. By bracketing, I mean doing a small series of normal, over-, and under-exposures of your subject. For instance, if your meter indicates that you have a basic exposure setting of f/8 at 1/250 second, you might bracket this first exposure with a second one at f/8 at 1/125 second, and then a third at f/8 at 1/500 second, and then quickly compare the results on your LCD. This will give you a much better chance of getting the best exposure for a particular photographic setting.

Many cameras include an auto-bracketing feature that will sequentially bracket exposures for you at predetermined settings. These settings can also be useful in still-life photographic sessions, when you have as many chances as you need to review your bracketed images and adjust accordingly. If you are photographing people or moving objects, then you'll have to perform your bracketing test before your photographic session begins.

How do bracketing and magnification relate to Photoshop? Well, think of them as anti-Photoshop devices. The better you use zoom tools (despite all their faults, they're still better than nothing) and bracketing tests, the less time you'll spend making sweeping and technically difficult changes in Photoshop later.

Using Your Camera's Histograms

Histograms and highlight warnings are built into many of today's digital cameras, which show up on your LCD screen at the click of a button. A histogram shows the relative distribution of pixels of the various brightness levels in an image ranging from shadow areas on the left to highlight areas on the right. An image with no shadows will show a histogram with minimal data on the left; a histogram with no highlights will have a graph with minimal data on the right (Figures 3.63.8).

Figure 3.6

Figure 3.6 Histograms describe an image's range of shadows, midtones, and highlights. Looking at the histogram (yellow area), this image appears to be well exposed, with a broad tonal range.

Figure 3.7

Figure 3.7 A histogram with most of the information appearing on the right side of the yellow graph indicates an image with overexposure—one that lacks shadow detail.

Figure 3.8

Figure 3.8 A histogram with a spikew, or cliff, of information on the left side of the graph indicates underexposure. This image probably lacks sufficient highlight detail.

Histograms give you the information you need to take a better image next time around. Let's walk through a typical histogram experiment.

  1. Set your camera's f/number and shutter time for a normal exposure.
  2. Make an exposure. (Remember: It's only a test shot!)
  3. Press the camera's image playback button. Your image appears.
  4. Press the camera's multiselector, speed dial, or info button to reveal the image's histogram.
  5. Set your camera's f/number and shutter time so that it will capture a greater-than-normal exposure.
  6. Make a second exposure.
  7. Press the camera's image playback button.
  8. Press the camera's multiselector or speed dial to reveal the image's histogram for a second time.
  9. Set your camera's f/number and shutter time to capture a less-than-normal exposure.
  10. Make a third exposure.
  11. Press the camera's image playback button.
  12. Press the camera's multiselector (or speed dial) to activate the camera's histogram for a second time.
  13. Compare the different images and decide what the best exposure settings are.

Using Your Camera's Highlight Warnings

Highlight warnings pick up where histograms leave off by warning us if we're in danger of overexposing a scene's highlights. They reveal overexposure, allowing you to take care of the problem before it occurs.

The real issue is how accurate your histograms and highlight warnings are. Many photographers today rely almost exclusively on in-camera histograms and highlight warnings to ensure that their exposure values (most specifically the highlights) are in check (Figure 3.9). This is one area where Photoshop's tools are superior. They don't replace the histograms you would access in Photoshop. An in-camera histogram, for example, might not catch the exposure problems seen in Figure 3.9. Still, in a pinch, LCD-based histograms and highlight warnings are an effective means of finding out whether exposure changes must be made on future shots.

Figure 3.9

Figure 3.9 The highlighted (in this case, black area) of this image lacks sufficient detail. These areas might be very difficult to identify on an LCD, or by looking at the image's histogram on the camera.

Peachpit Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Peachpit and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Peachpit products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Adobe Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive:

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020