What is a gray card in photography?

A gray card is exactly as it sounds: A card that is gray. More specifically, a gray card is generally middle gray, or 18% gray. They tend to be small, portable, light, and easy to whip out of a camera bag when necessary.

Certain types of photographers never photograph with gray cards, such as street photographers, wildlife photographers, and (most) landscape photographers. But other photographers, including portrait photographers and product photographers rarely leave home without one.

It’s interesting that even today, a lot of good photographers seldom use it, but, if they want things to be perfect, a gray card is a must.

The typical gray card is 18% gray. You can see how it relates.

Why are gray cards important?

Remember how I said that a gray card is middle gray, also known as 18% gray?

This number is important because 18% gray is what your camera’s meter is trying to calculate when it determines a correct exposure for a scene. If you put a gray card in front of your subject and take a meter reading, you will get a balanced exposure regardless of any tonal contrast in the scene.

Now, you might be wondering: What about my camera’s meter? Why can’t I rely on it for a good exposure?

Camera meters are very, very good, but they make mistakes, especially when faced with significant tonal contrast, as well as scenes that are naturally very light (e.g., a snowstorm) or very dark (e.g., a black rock).

One thing to remember about the GRAY CARD, is if you want a perfect exposure, there is no other way around this. A GRAY CARD is what you need to use.

The scene below is a tricky one for a camera meter to handle, thanks to the bright highlights on the food and the dark wood of the table:


Do you need a gray card?

Gray cards are helpful, but they don’t work for every type of photography. For one, if the subject is moving, then a gray card calculation is essentially worthless; within a few moments, the scene will change, and you’ll need to take another reading, and another, and another, which is more than a little annoying. Imagine a street photographer, who goes back and forth from shadow to sunlight while photographing subjects on the move. A gray card would be useless, as the exposure and white balance would need recalibrating from moment to moment.

Additionally, a gray card only works if your subject and the gray card are illuminated by the same light. Yet in certain genres of photography – bird photography and sports photography, for instance – the subject may be far off in the distance. That’s why bird photographers and sports photographers pretty much never use a gray card; there’s really no point, given the distance to the subject!

On the other hand, gray cards are perfect for controlled shooting scenarios. If you’re photographing food, products, or portraits, then a gray card is incredibly helpful. You can get close to your subject, take a gray card reading, and rely on it for an entire shooting session. Plus, gray cards are often necessary in these scenarios, as you must accurately represent the product and food colors.

How to use a gray card for perfect exposures

A gray card is the closest thing you’ll get to a magic bullet; it will give a near perfect exposure in almost any situation. So how does it work?

First, set your camera to spot metering mode, which tells your camera to meter off a small spot in the center of the frame. While this is not absolutely necessary, it will help a lot, especially in circumstances where you cannot fill the entire frame with the gray card.

Next, put the gray card in your scene, right at the center of the frame. Switch your camera over to Manual mode and set the exposure (based on your camera’s meter reading).

Taking a meter reading with a grey card.

Then take the gray card away. As long as the light doesn’t change, you will now have an accurate exposure for all subsequent shots you take of the scene.

Easy, right?

woman with red and black hair
Photo by Cihan Oğuzmetin on


Next time you take a portrait, or product photography, consider using a gray card. It amazes me every time I see a portrait where a gray card was used. The exposure is just so perfect, you too will be amazed. Just another tool that will help you become a better photographer.


give your subject space to look into

Once asked: ‘When taking pictures of people which side is it best to put them on, the right or the left?’

As a rule (and we all know that they are made to be broken) if the person (and it works with animals too) you are photographing is looking in one direction or even if their head is pointing in that direction it is best to place them on the opposite side of the frame.

give your subject space to look into

You’ll see it best illustrated in the images on this page – in each case the person is not being photographed head on but have their head pointing either to the left or the right. As a result the photographer has given them some space on the side that they are pointing/looking.

The reason for this is that when a person views an image with a person looking in one direction or the other their eyes also are drawn in that direction. In a sense you’re giving the subject of your image some space to look into and in doing so create a natural way for the photos viewer to flow into the photo also.

Even just a slight turn of the head can be effectively framed using this technique.

Breaking the Rule

Of course, breaking this rule produces interesting shots (in some cases more so). They might not be as aesthetically pleasing on some levels and could leave those viewing your images feeling a little on edge but this type of reaction to photos can be quite powerful also.


Photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash

The above article is courtesy of Darren Rowse with Digital photography school.


african american girl looking at camera
Photo by Misha Voguel on

#49 of 50 subjects of Photography. HOW TO TAKE A SELF PORTRAIT: We have the last one on Thursday (Wednesday is Photos of the Week). And it has been a challenge to give you good content on 50 subjects. I invite you to look back at the past blogs to learn what you can of the 50 subjects:

All 50 of these subjects will be done by this Thursday. If you want to learn about any of these subjects, feel free to go back to past blogs, within this website.

I hope you don’t think that the best way to do a self portrait is with your cell phone doing a “selfie”. I don’t know why, but, I hate those. So… amateur. Let us learn the right way now to do a good self portrait.

Step 1 – find your self timer control on your camera…. do not take a selfie with your cell phone. Do it right.
  • The first thing you need to do is find your “self timer” on your camera. Do not just take a selfie. We want you to do a good creative photo of yourself. I don’t know of any camera that doesn’t have a “self timer”. Check your camera’s instruction manual if you can’t find it.
  • If we are going to do this right, let’s put it on a tripod. That will make the camera stay steady, and also you don’t need anybody else to help you….. haha.
Use a Tripod, a camera man’s best friend
  • Now use the proper lens for your camera. If you are using a DSLR camera or the smaller camera, use a lens that is about 50 mm or in that range. Do not use a wide angle lens to take your portrait. If you use a small telephoto lens, you will not have a distorted face. So important you get the right lens.
Sigma actually makes a “portrait lens”. It is designed to give you the perfect portrait.
  • Trying to figure out which aperture to use? I remember when I took portraits as a profession many years, the best aperture was either F5.6 or F8. Ideally at this setting you will have the whole head in focus with the depth of field. Like I used to say: “Don’t you want their ears in focus too?”
  • Finally, look through your camera, pre focus, and set your aperture at least, or go manual so you get the right aperture, and who cares what the right shutter speed is, tell yourself to hold still.
This is what it would look like to do a “good self portait”

That’s really it. If you want to try different poses to be creative, then go for it.


Photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash

You know there are some wonderful “portrait” photographers, who, for some reason, hardly ever get their photos out in the world for people to enjoy. And they will even go to websites where they can post their portraits on a free basis just to get their name out there, and to give examples of some of the great work they do.

Today, on the “Photos of the Week” we will put together some amazing portraits from some real good photographers. Fun to see the beauty in people.

Photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash

There is a lesson to be learned in posting all these portraits. This is a “training session”. As I was posting these portraits, the thing that made the best portraits stand out, were the ones with great lighting. The photographer knew his or her stuff well, and used the best possible lighting to enhance the portraits of these people. True skill, and it’s a good lesson in all of these photos today.

Photo by calicadoo on Unsplash


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash
Photo by Church of the King on Unsplash
Photo by Nurpalah Dee on Unsplash
Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

The next group is under the category of “faces”:

Photo by Radu Florin on Unsplash
Photo by Milad Shams on Unsplash

Above you will see 51 different photo subjects. I never knew there was so many different subjects in photography. BUT…. I have done a special “teaching and learning blog” on all of them, up to BIRDS. I will be doing that one tomorrow, and as you can see, there is only a few left. If there is some of these you would like to learn about, go back to previous blogs, or hit the search bar at the top of the page.


Photo by June O on Unsplash

Why would you ever take a close-up of faces? The answer is simple. The part of the face is something that really shows off that person. That person will probably understand. If you told someone that they have the most beautiful eyes, and you asked them if you could take a picture of their eye(s), I think that most of the time they would say yes. Of course the other reason might be for medical reasons, but, we won’t get into that. Let’s concentrate on how to do these close-ups of faces.

Here is our list of what we need to do to take these type of photos:

  1. Make Your Model’s Face Stand Out With Makeup or Face Paint.
  2. Take Face Close Ups Using a Zoom Lens.
  3. Use a Large Aperture for a Softer Focus.
  4. Use Natural Side Light to Make Every Close Up Look Flattering.
  5. Use Direct Light to Create Stunning Portrait Lighting Patterns.
  • Make Your Model’s Face Stand Out With Makeup or Face Paint.
  • Photo by Ali Hajian on Unsplash

    If someone has been working on their makeup to the point of perfection, then this is the time you want to get real close to the model. Of course, it helps if someone knows how to do makeup right. But, look how beautiful this photo looks. Can you see doing this with someone who is good at this?

    Of course, at Halloween, doing an extreme close-up of a painted face is another perfect reason to do this. What do you think?

  • Take Face Close Ups Using a Zoom Lens.
  • faces, freckles, close-up :: Wallpapers
    Courtesy of “Wallpapers”

    When taking these type of close-ups, can you imagine the photographer getting within a foot of your face? Now that is not just good practice to take any picture of a face or portrait up close. Using a Zoom lens for dslr will allow you to be 6 to 10 feet away, and not make the model freeze up. Have respect for “space”.

  • Use a Large Aperture for a Softer Focus.
  • Using a large aperture usually will give you a softer focus than if you did it with a smaller aperture. It is not the same as using a soft focus lens or soft focus filter, but, still the photo is soft because of it.

  • Use Natural Side Light to Make Every Close Up Look Flattering.
  • Photo by Damon Hall on Unsplash

    Side lighting like this is fun to do. When the person first sees this type of photo of themselves, they almost always say “that’s way cool”. It’s a more modern type of portrait or face shot that is becoming more popular. You will see it quite often on black and white as well.

  • Use Direct Light to Create Stunning Portrait Lighting Patterns.
  • Photo by Alexandru Zdrobău on Unsplash

    Shooting the person, when the light is directly in front of them, also creates dramatic pictures. Detail comes out that you don’t normally see. It’s a beautiful way to do faces.

    Face Close-ups (100 pics) -
    Photo courtesy of Izismile

    Here is a great example of a direct lighting close-up. There is just one thing I don’t like about this, and this is what you have to be careful of with direct lighting. That is the light spots that seem to show up on faces. Like the nose and the forehead. It’s a beautiful portrait, but, lighting is tough on this one. What do you think?

    a man with a messy beard
    Photo by Berke Araklı on

    This is what we call a “Character Portrait”. Direct lighting, close-up, and maybe a smaller aperture to get “tack sharp” photos to accentuate the face’s wrinkles, beard, expressions, etc. This is one great way to use direct lighting. Love this kind of photo. Just shows deep into the soul of a person.


    Photo by Jessica Rockowitz on Unsplash

    I like the way photographers take photos of families now. Such a lot of fun different poses to try with the family. To get to a studio and have them do the professional posing, the backdrop of the library, and the formal way to do photos of families is really hard on some families. Like the photo above, the family is all together, and casually dressed for a picture to hang on the wall. BUT WAIT!!!! Don’t you need to see their faces? Well, in my way of taking family photos, you can be casual, but really, I think it’s important to get the faces of everyone, and especially catch them when they are smiling if you can.

    The above photo is more of a casual photo, and still you see their faces on everyone. But, here are some tips on what to really look for in taking photos of families:

    1. DO Tell Them What to Do.
    2. Do NOT Pose Your Clients Facing the Sun.
    3. DO Communicate With Your Clients.
    4. Do NOT Forget the Surroundings.
    5. DO Tell the Family How to Pose.
    6. Do NOT Go Overboard With Editing.
    7. DO Keep an Open Mind About the Results.
    8. Do NOT Take Just One Photo.

    I think all of the above steps are very important in taking photos of a family. Let’s look at some examples:

    6 Tips for Your Family Photo Shoot - Me Ra Koh, The Photo Mom
    Photo by Me Ra Koh

    I’ll be honest, I almost always pray that the number of people in the family is an odd number (3, 5, 7, etc). Because look how pleasing that is. Putting them all in some kind of pyramid is just good composition. And of course, in a setting like this, the parents should always be in the middle. That is one thing I think is important.

    If you do have an even number of people in the family (4, 6, 8 etc.), then you have to be bit more creative. You can still create some kind of pyramid with even number people, like this:

    20 Creative Family Photo Ideas - mybabydoo | Photography poses family,  Family posing, Family photo pose
    Photo by My Baby Doo photography

    The family members are hardly ever the same size, so, it’s not too hard to create a pyramid type pose with even numbers. Just be creative, but, think pyramid. This also gets into the steps of telling where people need to stand, and also how to pose them, as listed above.

    Funny Family Portraits | Awkward & Bad Family Portraits

    When taking photos of families, be aware of the surroundings around them. Is there a tree coming out of someone’s head? Is the weather something to consider.

    And the other thing to tell your family ahead of time, is Don’t all dress in the same clothes. It just looks unnatural.

    57 Matchy-Matchy Families - | Funny family photos,  Awkward family portraits, Funny family portraits

    The family might think it’s fun, but have a few of these type of photos handy, so you can show them how awful it looks.

    When telling a family how to dress, I have always advised them to wear earth-tone colors, or something that is not going to distract them from their faces…. which is the most important part of family photos.

    10 Tips for Preparing for a Family Photoshoot - Oh Lovely Day | Chandra  Fredrick
    Photo by “Oh Lovely Day” Photography

    See how nicely this family dressed in earth tones and it just makes the viewer look at faces, and not the clothes.

    Next tip to watch out for, and I have seen photographers just overdo some of this, and that is Don’t go overboard with editing. You may get photos that look like this:

    Hilariously Bad Family Photos Go Viral | PetaPixel
    YIKES !

    Just let the photo speak for itself. You will not win awards for bad editing.

    Finally: How do you get photos of families without someone blinking or closing their eyes, or making funny faces. That is the final tip as listed above. Take lots of photos. I have this belief that if you countdown to when you are going to snap your camera, that on the count of 3 everyone will blink. However, just for fun, I will count to 3, but, start snapping photos at 1, 2, 4, 5, etc. And as long as they seem to stay in the pose, I will keep snapping. But, I don’t take a picture on 3.

    Here are some excellent family portraits, and the reason I am posting these photos is for you to study them, and see all the good things you like about it. All of these photos, in my book, are just excellent family photos:

    15 Family Photo Session Tips & Advice from a Professional Photog
    Photo by Daisy Beatty photography
    Tips for a Successful Family Session — Mike B Photography
    Photo by Mike B Photography
    Primavera Family Session | Mansfield, TX - Sarah Hoover Photography
    Photo by Sarah Hoover Photography

    Enjoy taking photos of families, but, study the good photographers and see how they pose them, and to what degree of editing they do. My rule in photography is to be a copycat in portrait photography, because you will get it right, if you follow the professional portrait photographers. Use the tips listed above to help guide you in making good photos.

    There are certain lenses recommended for portraits. Click on this link: portrait lenses to see what is recommended.


    Photo by Omar Lopez on Unsplash

    Today’s subject on the list is “taking photos of your “someone you love”.

    When taking photos of the people around you, it involves some real feelings, at least that is what we all hope. Your family, your girlfriend or boyfriend, your baby, your parents, and on and on. So many people to think about when you are thinking of your loved ones. One thing I want to mention right now is that you NEED to take photos of your loved ones regularly. One of the most tragic things you can have happen, is to lose someone, and then not have any good pictures of them to remember them by. Please plan on taking photos of your loved ones.

    Here are some good tips to taking pictures of your loved ones:

    1. Take serious photos, like portraits, of the people you love for a real remembrance of them. Tell them you need to practice taking portraits.
    joyful adult daughter greeting happy surprised senior mother in garden
    Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

    2- If you have older people in the family, especially get some close-up photos of them. And tell them how much you love them. It will bring a smile to them.

    family of four walking at the street
    Photo by Emma Bauso on

    3- Have someone help you take a picture of your own family, doing something you like to do, or enjoy. This way you capture your own family. Don’t forget that.

    4- As a photographer, you too need to have your photo taken. I know I always took photos of the family, but, later on in life, there was no pictures of me, because I was always taking the pictures. I was the one behind the camera.

    five women laughing
    Photo by nappy on

    5- When you have family together, have your camera ready to take photos. Get those moments of the family having fun, laughing, really seeing the love you have in your family. Take a lot of photos, because then the family will expect that there will be good photos taken, because you take a lot of pictures.

    wood bridge cute sitting
    Photo by Pixabay on

    6- Pets can be a very important part of a family. If you have pets, get the photos of the pet interacting with the family member. Then you have photos of the family member and the pet, and that is a winning photo, years down the road.

    child sitting on bench with dog
    Photo by Sam Lion on

    7- Take photos at school events or other events that the family might be involved in. Those are just memories to keep forever.

    family preparing food in the kitchen
    Photo by August de Richelieu on

    8- And then don’t forget about your own special loved one, your wife, husband, or significant other. Make this picture special that you will hang on the wall.

    smiling woman with red hair
    Photo by Tomaz Barcellos on
    Photo by behrouz sasani on Unsplash


    When taking pictures of your family remember to include them in happy activities, and then be prepared to take photos of them in their best moods. Take close up or single photos of everyone in your family so you will always have a recent photo of everyone in your family. And finally, don’t forget to get a picture of you as well.