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Entries about photography

THE THREE STEPS for better Travel Photography

Do you envy the great photographers, who seemingly take shot upon shot and never seem to fail? Do you crave that striking feeling of others really appreciating your pictures, wanting to see more? I will let you in on a couple of professional secrets.

There are numerous and enormous amounts of companies out there, trying to get you to buy their "Ultimate Guide to Photography" or their "Digital Photographer's Guide to Better Pictures" - series of books, CD:s and lots of information about composition, effects, color spaces, depth of field and technical mumbo jumbo. What they seldomly tell you, is how to take better pictures. They try, but just complicate it with terms and non-understandable techniques that will only confuse most people. But the basics aren't so hard - actually they couldn't be more simple.

To take great pictures, you are required to think. It's as simple as that.

STEP ONE - Think before

Put the camera down.

This step requires you to do something most photographers just can't do - to put your camera away. Put it in the shoulderbag, the backpack or whatever you are carrying with you. Because once stowed away, you start using your eyes! You've probably seen the older generation of travelers constantly carrying their camera in a neck-strap, taking pictures at everything and everyone? That is exactly what we're trying to avoid.

In doing this, we create a kind of freedom. Your hands don't have to hold on to the camera, and you can look through your eyes instead of through your lens. When traveling, new and interesting sigths and sounds are all around you at most times - it can be hard to grasp everything you encounter. But by leaving your camera out of the equation - your mind can feel, smell and experience. And you can focus on selecting those few, important moments when it's worth it to get the camera out. And when you truly see an image worth taking - quickly get the camera out - and take it.

STEP TWO - Think while shooting

Focus on the image you saw in your head.

You might want to get up higher or bend lower to change perspective, or move a bit to change the background - do that quickly. Do anything to get hat you want. Don't get distracted, be sure to take the picture you saw in your mind earlier. And especially do not start high-speed-shooting! This is the biggest trap of modern day DSLR's - making photographers literally "shoot" their subjects instead of keeping their attention to capture them in the right moment. Don't shoot 50 frames, just because you can. Instead, THINK. This way you'll end up with just one or two frames - but good ones.

STEP THREE - Think afterwards

This is where the amateurs get sorted from the professionals.

No matter how good pictures you have in your collection after a trip, you've got to choose! Whether you are presenting them at Travellerspoint, on your webpage, in a magazine article or in a private photo album - you've got to narrow them down to the very best! 99% of the time, people's collections are too big - so big that no one bears to look them all through. This effectively makes the good pictures dissappear in the mass of the collection!

Point is - present only your very best. Professionals can go on a three month long expedition, and return to publish just ten photos. Maybe just three. This may seem odd - but it's the way great photography is made. Not only does a limited selection of images hide all the other ones (where you failed to make a perfect shot) - but it promotes the good ones. So that those ones can really, really shine.

Summary

So when trying to use all your amassed knowledge of taking pictures - try this technique once in a while. It may seem simple - and does only cover so much - but it really works as a basic outline for taking pictures.

Think before - look with your eyes.
Think while shooting - do anything for the picture you want.
Think after - present nothing but your very best.

MARTIN EDSTRÖM
2008-08-18 - Stockholm, Sweden

Posted by Makini 07:45 Tagged photography Comments (1)

Basic Landscape Photography

This photoguide article is on landscape photography. What I hope to do is not to show you how to be a National Geographic staff photographer, and as you read further you'll see why this isn't necessarily possible nor probably what you want, but instead to give you some idea how to improve your images and take pictures you would be proud to frame on your living room wall.

The Tough Part

In my opinion, the toughest part about landscape photography is learning to be patient. Especially if you're travelling. This is for two reasons. First, it's hard to tame ones excitment when you're on vacation. If you're like me, you arrive in say Prague and you want to immediately start snapping away as soon as you step off the train !! I mean it's PRAGUE !!! Your adrenaline is pumping and everything looks amazing those first few moments you arrive in a new locale. And that will probably last for the next 2-3 days. So the tendency is to snap away at everything !! I mean it's PRAGUE !! Well, there's really nothing wrong with that. Especially in the age of digital cameras. But unless you're super lucky, you're not likely to take your best shots during this time. You're simply too excited and don't take the time to properly choose the right locations and compositions that will give you those stunning photos. My advice is this, when you first arrive at a new location. Indulge a little. Take some test shots, check them on your digital camera, but don't be disappointed if they aren't your best. And plan for a second visit later on in the day or the next day to the same locations for your pictures. The most important thing to do is LOOK around and get to know your location. The stunning shots will take a little longer. What's the second toughest part ? I'll tell you later. ;-)

What is Landscape Photography ?

So what is a landscape ? Is it simply a picture of mountains or of a stream ? How is it different from a picture of a person ? How is different from a picture of an object ? Simply put, the basis of landscape photography is to record the land. The size, the shape, and even the feel of the land. Keep these goals in mind when you take your next landscape shot. How can I convey a sense of the size of this vast wilderness ? What is it about the shape of this stream that's so interesting ? What is the mood of a sunset ?

Size

A photograph is essentially a 2 dimensional thing. However, the real world is not 2 dimensional. In order to properly convey a sense of the size of the real world, we must employ the artist's concept of "perspective". Our visual perception of the size of the world, is based on being able to reference it against a known quantity. The relative size of a mountain against, say your 18 year old sister, gives your brain important clues about how big the mountain is, or how far it is away from your current location. Here I'll share with you one tip. If you ask a professional (and I have), the first thing they think about when composing a landscape is not what's far off in the distance, but what is close at hand in the foreground. Try to include an object such as a rock or plant in the foreground to give the photo a sense of "vastness". Try different compositions. You'll quickly find that different techniques are more effective to convey the sense of space than others.

In order to gain more detail of the distant landscape you will have to increase what is known as the "depth-of-field". Which is basically how much infront and how much in back of the subject you've focused on is sharp. If you have it on your camera, be sure to use the landscape setting (the little triangular mountain shape on your camera's mode selector). The camera should take care of the rest. On more advanced cameras (digital or film) there is an "A" setting and you can do more fine tuning. This setting allows you to choose the "aperature" of the lens. You'll have to read your camera's manual on how to do this. There are too many cameras out there for me to give you specific instructions within this guide. But generally it's very straightforward. Set the aperature to f8 or higher. Then compose and shoot. Your images will be clear from the foreground to far in the distance. Now the downside of this (you knew there was a downside didn't you?) is that setting the aperature higher closes down the hole infront of the lens which lets the light in. Which means that for a given sensitivity of film or digital camera sensor setting the longer it takes to get sufficient light into the camera to make a picture. Which means early in the morning or late in the evening, you're either going to have to hold the camera with incredibly steady hands to hold the camera while waiting for the picture to be taken, or you use a tripod. I'll explain in a minute why you want to be out early before sunrise and late after the sunset. In newer cameras there's also the choice to have vibration reduction (or Image Stabilization or Optical Stabilization, etc. depending on manufacturer) technology which can help, but generally a tripod is more effective and less expensive. Vibration reduction is expensive (I paid an additional $400 more for one lens with VR) !!

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One other thing I don't think I need to tell you about is that zooming wide gives you the ability to capture more of the land. I think most people instinctively understand this point. For landscapes then, a wide angle lens is useful. Any lens capable of being set to a value between 20 to 36 mm is generally considered to be a good wide angle landscape lens when using 35mm film. Which means on most DSLR's that have a crop factor of x1.5 you'll need to purchase a lens capable of being set between 13 to 24 mm's. Many photographers say less than 20mm the images start to fisheye (bulge out in the middle) and more than 36 mm is too narrow to capture enough of the land. However, tastes vary. I was shooting sunsets using a zoom set around 100mm yesterday. So don't feel you must run out and spend hundreds on a new lens.

Shape

By following the rules of composition (covered in an earlier article) you can easily capture shape. Look for leading lines. Look for meandering s-curves. Again, get down and use wide-angle lens distortion to your advantage. Depending on the scene, different techniques will apply. But remember to decide beforehand what is it that appeals to you about this scene and then think of a way to capture it.

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Feel

Feel can be created using a number of things. Colour is a great one. Blue is cool and red is warm. But how to capture blue ? How to capture red ? Think of the time of day. Early in the morning (about 30min before sunrise), as the mist rises from the ground, the low and diffuse light gives a cool feeling. So get up before the sun and you'll be-able to capture this mood. Just before the sun completely sets (about 30min before), the sky turns bright red and orange. Make your way to your chosen location and you'll capture this mood.

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These two "magic moments" are the secret to capturing the great landscape colours.

Planning Your Shots

One fundamental of landscape photography is you don't control the subject. Mother nature controls the land. And she's not going to bother changing the position of the sun just for you. Nor will she move a mountain just because you asked her to, no matter how nice you ask. Begging might help, but I haven't tried that one. You let me know how well that works, ok ? ;-) So it's your job to be there, when the sun is in the right position, and your job to hike 3 miles up the hill to the lookout to properly frame the shot. Great landscape photography is a lot of work !! Next time you see a great shot of the Alps, just think about what it took to make that photograph.

Now there are things you can do to make it easier on yourself. Ask a local guide where the best scenery is. Or else use a map or guidebook and study the local area with photography in mind. Keep in mind the time of sunrise and sunset, and plan to be at a particular location to have the desired sunlight. Keep in mind the weather and season. Notice when there will be fog, high humidity, dense cloud cover and use these elements to diffuse the sunlight and change the mood of the photograph.

Which brings us to the second toughest thing about landscape photography. Having the time to take the pictures. If you're like me, you can't stay several months or even a year at a particular location to wait for the proper weather or light for that picture postcard perfect image. Yes, this is why you don't necessarily want to, nor have the means to become a National Geographic photographer. Those guys will literally live for months in a particular place to get one or two stunning images !! You or I can't afford to do that. But we can do our best. By carefully studying the area, planning our itinerary, using proper technique, and a little luck, we also can land a real "keeper" !!

Equipment

There are two pieces of equipment that almost every landscape photographer says are a bare minimum to have.

One is a tripod. This is essential for long exposures (see above). The most important thing is choose one that's stable. So go into the store, extend it fully and wiggle the top to see how stable it is when holding your camera. This need not be the most expensive one. I paid $20 for a great tripod that I have no doubts would work great with my little Canon point&shoot.

The second is a polarizer filter (for autofocusing cameras you need to ask for a "circular" polarizer instead of a linear one. The linear ones don't work with the automatic focus.). This is a circular piece of glass that screws into the thread infront of your lens or into an adapter which connects to your camera. It works in a similar way to polarizing eyeglasses and will cut down the glare and haze from the sun. Your skys will be bluer and your grass will be greener. To set it you look through the lens and rotate the polarizer until you see that the colours are what you want. Use the view finder or LCD depending on your camera to look through the lens. Some cameras (like my Canon) are tricky and have a separate view finder which doesn't look through the lens. So I have to use the LCD. But generally if the view finder isn't viewing through the lens the LCD display does.

Landscape photography need not be complex or expensive. Infact, many professional landscape photographers use garage built wooden boxes with 19th century technology to achieve their results. Three out of 4 of the above photographs were taken with little point and shoot cameras. The important thing is to learn your subject and carefully plan your shots. Good luck and have fun !!

Posted by Q' 13:01 Tagged photography Comments (2)

Camera Choice

'Small' and 'Light' are two words that help describe the ideal camera for the traveller, or at least the vast majority of us. And the current state of the art in digital compacts allows us to use one for almost any kind of 'snap' we could ever imagine, or even a camera-phone.
But what about those with more than a passing interest in the photographs they're taking, and when do you need something more capable?

The two other most popular categories of camera right now are Digital SLRs and 'bridge' cameras - those with an 'ultra'-zoom lens and whose size is typically between compact and DSLR.

SLRs used to be the preserve of professionals and enthusiasts, but diminishing sizes and prices have brought them into the reach of mere mortals, whether we need or understand all of their features or not. Ultimate image quality and interchangeable lenses are their two most important features.

A bridge camera is possibly the most flexible of all-rounders - at its heart is a compact camera, but with a versatile 10x, 12x (or more) zoom lens stuck on, the downside being that it won't slip into your pocket like a compact, so might be harder to hide when you need to.

I'd say your choice boils down to what you intend to do with your images once your travels are over. If all you'll ever need is something to record memories with, then a compact is perfect. A bridge (or ultrazoom) will give you more options and allow you to zoom right into a scene and capture more detail - remember though, animals and buildings don't care about privacy, but people might.
In the right hands, compacts and bridge cameras can produce spectacular results - even images capable of being used at large sizes or sold in various formats.

If you want the best quality and flexibility though, you should think seriously about a DSLR, especially if you have any thoughts of submitting images for publication. But be prepared to carry the extra weight and take more precautions with security and safety.

Posted by stevieh 06:33 Tagged photography Comments (0)

No Photos Please - We're British

Or "How not to get arrested for getting your camera out"

Once upon a time, we in the 'developed' world chuckled when told of the people of remote tribes who believed you were stealing their spirit if you took a photograph of them. We're not laughing now.
Paranoia about terrorists and paedophiles means the taking of photographs in public places is under serious threat. This is of huge importance to both photographers and travellers alike.

Remember the british 'plane spotters' who were held in a Greek prison for taking photos at a military airfield? While you could say it was obvious they weren't terrorists, you could equally say it was a bit silly photographing a military installation. But where do we draw the line?

Unfortunately it seems that line may soon be drawn outside your front door. Rumour has it that there is a growing number of tourist attractions that are banning photography. Yes, that's right, "tourist attractions" - the very existence of which is the whole reason that most people buy a camera, or certainly used to be in pre-digital days.

As the law stands in the UK, if you are stood in a public place you are theoretically allowed to take a photograph of anything you can see. In practice however, more and more people (including professional photographers) are finding themselves stopped by the police and questioned about their intentions.

What does this mean to the Traveller? Well, first and foremost it means you should be as aware of what you are doing when you take out your camera in the UK as you would anywhere else in the world that you might normally consider sensitive. Be aware that somebody may be offended - rightly or wrongly - about what you are doing, and be prepared to move on. Don't let the politics spoil your visit.

Posted by stevieh 06:34 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged photography Comments (1)

Weather and Photography

An article about the weather's effect on photography - and how to adapt as a photographer to get the pictures right.

overcast 4 °C

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What makes the difference between these two pictures of the same beach - at two different times?
Only one thing - the first shot was taken with the weather in mind - thereby making it a pretty good photo, and the other was not.

This article will serve with ways of how to improve your photography by adapting to the weather - a sometimes very hard thing to do. Basically there are three different aspects of the weather to think of, and they will be explained in order:

1. Lighting - how the current weather affects the light in a photo
2. Atmosphere - how the weather gives a photo atmosphere
3. Effects on motive - how motives can be directly influenced by weather

Lighting

The weather affects your picture in many ways - but maybe most of all it determines how your picture will be lit. A landscape shot on a cloudy and on a rainy day will turn out differently from a landscape shot in bright sunlight. Let's take a look at three common light situations - the Direct sunlight, the Overcast and the Morning & Evening light.

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Direct sunlight

When the sun is glowing bright in the sky - with no clouds to shield it - a photographer is very limited. This type of sunlight casts sharp shadows that make most shots involving people very hard to get right - you always get disturbing shadows in people's faces.
The same problem occurs when shooting scenes - often big parts of the picture are shadowy - while others are very bright. See the above as an example - the line between shadow and highlight is dramatic, which makes it almost impossible to even make out what the sign in the photo says.

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Overcast

When the sun is covered behind clouds - sometimes making the sky totally white - many photographers put their camera back in the bag, thinking there's no use photographing a sky that isn't blue. This is when you should take the camera up. Overcast conditions often provide a perfect lighting to the scene at hand - gently smoothing everything out without creating sharp shadows or extreme contrasts. As long as you're not taking landscape shots where the sky is extremely important - this is the time to act. Portraits of people, macro-shots of flowers - even the occasional shot of some animal running by - are bound to turn out better than in direct sunlight. Know this - and use it to your benefit.

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Morning & Evening light

This is probably the favourite setting of many a photographer - and mine as well. In early mornings just before sunrise and in evenings just about sundown there seems to be magic in the air. Not just do you get the advantages of overcast situations - you also get beautiful colours playing on faces and scenes. In the above photo of a series of mountains you can clearly see the effects of sundown on the clouds - they're smooth and vividly coloured, something direct sunlight could never come up with.

Atmosphere

The weather has a great influence over a picture's atmosphere. First of all the weather determines the lighting (as described in the previous chapter) - but the wind and temperature also dictates conditions that affect the setting. Add to that the eventual rain, snow, fog etc - and you see that the term atmosphere is a very wide aspect of photography.

So, when you've got the hang of different light situations it's time to use it to create the feeling you want - to give the photo an atmosphere. This is a hard thing to plan for - as very few people can actually control the weather ( ;) ). And as always when you head out to get those perfect stormy/windy shots of an ocean - you arrive only to see the calmest ocean-surface in history. But that, I guess, is another problem ;)

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A very boring atmosphere

The atmosphere in the picture above is not very lively. But it's got one thing - potential. On a stormy day - with dramatic cloud-filled skies, a tearing wind and tall waves that break against the rock face - this picture would probably come out better. Think of that, when you pass by motifs that at the time seem very boring. Remember the place - and come back at the right time ;)

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A simple atmosphere

Sometimes the "right" atmosphere for a photograph can be as simple as the above. Taken on an ordinary day, in direct sunlight, the picture is very plain - a road, a meadow and a background of mountains. No dramatic weather or mysterious fog. It is important to note that the most simple solution sometimes is the best solution. So when a plain atmosphere is at hand, there is absolutely no need to chase wierd weather conditions to improve your pictures.

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A complete atmosphere

The above picture depicts a very well documented atmosphere. The lighting gives a feeling of early morning - while the snow gives a feeling of tranquillity. Note that if there had been a heavy snowfall, the picture would have given very different vibes. Also - if there had been a fog, it would give a more dangerous impression, since people often relate mists to uncertainty. The picture depicts what the photographer wanted to mediate - a cool, calm and inviting winter morning. When the atmosphere aspect is correctly used, it really strengthens the will to "walk into" a picture.

Important to note however, is that the general atmosphere of a photograph is greatly influenced also by other aspects. No matter how inviting a picture is, if a child is crying in the centre of attention in the photo - people will associate to that first, making the general atmosphere of your picture seem sad.

Effects on motive

It is very important not to stare yourself blind on only the lighting and atmosphere - you have to think about the effects on the motif as well. If you're chasing smiles and happy faces - don't do it on a rainy day. When the skies open themselves, people crouch and don't look up as much as on sunny days. But if you're out to photograph "sad" pictures, i.e. lonely streets, be sure to choose a windy and unpleasant day - this way you don't run into as many crowds as other days. The picture beneath is a good example - since it's raining people walk around a bit crouched, and some even have umbrellas. It sure wouldn't look like this in summer.

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The motif (the people) are affected by rain

The weather's effects on the motives really involves everything - people wear different clothing and react differently to different weather conditions - and you probably can't take a picture of a bird in the air on a rainy day. Safe to say - it's probably impossible to take a picture of a happy man in flip-flops while there are stormy clouds and flashes of lightning in the background. If you manage to do this, email me ;)

Conclusion

When photographing, keep these weather aspect in mind:

Lighting - Timing is crucial. "Plan" your photographs, and if this means waking up early to get good morning-light-shots - Just Do It!
Atmosphere - Paint the picture you have in mind by using the weather. Use the clouds, the fog or even a clear blue sky to make your image depict your feeling!
Effects on motives - Don't forget this. People and animals are always affected in one way or another by the weather.

Text and photographs, © Martin Edström 2007 - http://www.makini.se

Posted by Makini 22:09 Archived in Sweden Tagged photography Comments (3)

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