How to reduce stress and come home with some great memories of your trip.
It doesn’t really matter where you go, there are some universal recommendations that will help you gain more enjoyment from your trip and come home with the best possible pictures. Follow the advice in our ten top tips.
A brightness histogram shows the distribution of pixels across the recordable tonal range between pure white (on the right hand side) and deep black (on the left). In a correctly-exposed photograph, all the pixel should fit between these extremes.
1. Happy travellers carry light loads. Pack only what you need. While it’s tempting to bring all your equipment, you will travel more comfortably if you pare your kit down to one or two camera bodies and a couple of lenses.
Most people will be able to cover common situations with a twin-lens kit containing standard and tele zoom lenses. For consumer-level and enthusiast DSLRs, the typical 18-55mm and 55-200mm zooms should do the trick. When you must travel really light, consider an all-in-one ‘convenience’ zoom.
The internet is a great place to start researching your next trip. Most countries’ tourist organisations have comprehensive websites that showcase the area’s attractions and make it easy to book travel and accommodation.
Travelling professionals tend to choose a wide zoom (14-24mm or 16-35mm equivalent), a mid-range zoom (24-70mm), and a telephoto zoom (70-200mm or 70-300mm). These lenses will also suit serious enthusiasts with ‘full frame’ DSLRs.
However, you don’t need a professional DSLR to obtain good pictures. Modern sensors and processors can deliver quality that is well and truly good enough for any end use. Some Compact System Cameras provide professional-quality weatherproofing, enabling them to be used in all kinds of situations, including dust and rain.
Essentially, the lighter the camera the easier it is to carry. We discovered the benefits of the Micro Four Thirds (M4/3) system early this year and have recently adopted it as our preferred travel kit. You can pack a couple of camera bodies and up to six lenses in a camera bag that would have trouble holding a DSLR plus two lenses. And the entire kit weighs roughly the same.
Don’t forget to include your battery charger, cables and mains power adaptor (if travelling overseas) as well as a spare battery and memory cards. It’s worth adding a largish microfibre cleaning cloth, which can be used for wrapping lenses when it’s not in use.
Your camera bag should be comfortable to carry and make your equipment easily accessible. It doesn’t matter what type of bag you use, as long as you can carry it easily and it provides good protection for your gear. Backpacks are usually comfortable to wear but they leave your equipment vulnerable to theft in crowded cities. Bags that can be slung in front of your body are safer in these situations.
2. Research your destination. You will make wiser choices if you have some idea about the area you plan to visit. Do a Google search on your destination and check the weather conditions you can expect when you arrive. Read online forums for other people’s first-hand experiences to discover what time of year is best to go and learn about the best areas for photography.
Choose a camera bag that is comfortable to carry. A backpack like Lowepro’s Fastpack bag is easy to swing around and provides quick access to the equipment packed inside. (Source: Daymen Canada Acquisition ULC.)
This shot was taken at 4:45 pm, roughly an hour before sunset. The low angle of the sun adds a warm glow to the scene.
A long lens and fast shutter speed were required to secure this shot of a sunbird and bee in flight. Taken at 250mm with a 75-300mm lens on a M4/3 camera, 1/1600 second at f/7.1.
Visit your local library for printed guidebooks, such as Lonely Planet or Rough Guides. Check the date in the front of these books so you know whether to allow for currency fluctuations or political changes at your destination. Plan your itinerary to ensure you take the best advantage of the time you have.
3. Know your equipment. Make sure you are fully familiar with your camera and any other equipment you take. It’s easy to miss great photo opportunities when you have to stop and think about the best settings to use and/or struggle to locate key control buttons and dials. Ideally, your equipment should become an extension of your vision; setting controls should be largely instinctive.
Accordingly, don’t buy new equipment the day before you leave on your vacation; you’ll have to spend time learning the ins and outs of the new gear when you could have been enjoying yourself. If you’re going off-shore, take advantage of government tax-free concessions like Australia’s Tourist Refund Scheme, which allow departing holiday-makers to claim back the GST paid on goods costing $300 or more, which were purchased within 60 days of departure. (Details at http://www.gstaustralia.com.au/tourist-refund-scheme.htm.) You can use the goods in the period before you leave and then present the invoice with your passport and boarding pass to claim your refund.
Read and understand any manuals that come with the equipment and make sure you know how to operate all the key functions. Take the manuals with you ““ or at least put a PDF copy of it on your laptop, tablet or smart-phone so it’s available if you need it.
4. Take the necessary numbers. Carry copies of your passport number as well as the serial numbers of each piece of equipment and reference numbers for your insurance policies ““ and keep them in a safe place in your main bag, leaving a duplicate copy with a relative or friend at home. Being able to quote these numbers if anything gets lost or stolen will help you to file a police report and an insurance claim. Without serial numbers, you might not get your equipment back if it is found.
5. Utilise the best times of day. Knowledgeable photographers take advantage of the early morning and late afternoon because these times usually provide the best lighting for picture taking.
Early morning is also the time when most tourists are still in bed, which means you won’t have hordes of people intruding on your shots.
This panoramic shot was taken shooting into the just-risen sun to capture the light streaming through the early mist.
In the late afternoon you’ll find the so-called ‘magic hour’ when the sun is close to the horizon. Tourists tend to flock to bars and restaurants at this time so, again, you can enjoy shooting scenes lit by a warm, golden glow.
6. Take control of your camera. Don’t settle on the Full Auto mode; you can do much better by adjusting the camera settings to suit the kinds of pictures you want. When photographing scenery (including cityscapes), set the mode dial to aperture priority (A or Av) and choose a small lens aperture (f/8 to f/16) to ensure the scene is sharp from foreground to background.
If you’re shooting action, shift to shutter priority (S or Tv) and set a fast shutter speed (1/500 second or faster) to keep pace with moving subjects. Use the continuous shooting mode to record a burst of shots covering an action sequence.
Alternatively, select a slow shutter speed (1/30 second or slower) when you want to capture blurred motion and produce an ethereal result. Set the ISO to Auto and limit the maximum ISO setting to minimise the risk of image noise. The camera will adjust its sensitivity while retaining the settings you have chosen.
7. Read the histograms before you shoot and when you chimp. Cameras that display a live histogram on the monitor (or in the electronic viewfinder) allow you to check exposure levels before shooting. In a brightness histogram (which is all that’s necessary), the left side of the graph shows the distribution of pixels in the shadow areas, while the right side shows the highlight information.
The graph should fit within the boundaries of the base line. Aim to have exposures that bias the graph towards the right hand side without going over the end. This ensures details are recorded in shadowed areas as well as highlights.
When checking exposures post-capture (‘chimping’), use the histogram to determine whether the exposure is correct. When the graph pushes up hard against either end of the base line it indicates highlights and/or shadows are irretrievably lost. Always adjust your exposure and re-shoot when this happens.
8. Get creative. Try different angles, change your angle of view and shooting angle, move in close and photograph details; move out for a totally different perspective. Shooting panoramas can be a great solution when you’re in a cramped space and can’t fit the subject in. Above all, have fun with your camera and explore as many different ways of making pictures as it allows. (And that doesn’t mean simply using built-in effects filters, although these can provide starting points for further creative explorations.)
Play with HDR (High Dynamic Range) modes if your camera provides them. If it doesn’t, put your camera on a tripod and take three or more shots, varying the exposure by one stop to take in shadows (over-expose) and highlights (under-expose). Combine the images in an editor with HDR capabilities, such as Photoshop Elements.
9. Back-up as you go. Whenever you can, back-up the images and movies you shot during the day before going to bed. If you’ve brought a laptop, the process is straightforward and if you also have an external hard disk drive (HDD), making a second back-up copy to it provides extra insurance, provided you keep the drive in a different bag. If your laptop is lost or stolen, it’s less likely your other bag will be and if the HDD is packed in your checked-in bag and it goes missing, at least you have the images on your laptop.
If you don’t want to carry a laptop, consider Cloud-based storage. But make sure you will have internet access frequently during your trip. Popular Photography provides a roundup of seven recommended Cloud-based storage services for photographers, with summaries of storage space and approximate costs at http://www.popphoto.com/gallery/round-best-cloud-storage-services-photographers. Lifehacker lists five of them in its review at http://lifehacker.com/five-best-cloud-storage-providers-614393607.
Most services provide 2GB to 5GB free, with 100GB costing between US$50 and $150. However, many online storage albums are restricted to 1000 files ““ and some of us can take that many shots in a day!
10. Respect people’s privacy and cultural conventions. Empathise with the people you photograph and don’t behave in ways you would find unacceptable if you were on the receiving end. Some cultures forbid photography generally; others prohibit picture-taking in certain places and may police these areas. People may also turn away when a camera is pointed at them. However, in many areas, the local people will happily pose for your camera.
Always ask permission before taking portrait shots of individuals or small groups, although it’s not necessary (and usually impossible) when photographing people in a general scene. If your pictures will be used for commercial purposes, a model release must be signed by all subjects that can be identified in the shot.
In some places you will be expected to pay subjects. Payments can be cash or goods (sweets, souvenir-type goods, etc). Be prepared to negotiate payments and walk away if demands are excessive. Deals that are negotiated beforehand allow you to take time planning and executing your shot.
A visit to a community Eco School in northern South Africa as part of an Earthwatch expedition provided a great opportunity to take portrait shots. The school was happy to provide permission ““ and we were happy to send them prints of a selection of the best shots.
A panorama created from five vertical shots, taken to fit in the entire baobab tree, which was located in fairly dense vegetation that prevented it from being photographed in a single frame.
Should You Shoot Raw Files?
If you’re serious about printing your best shots, raw files have higher bit depth, which means a wider range of adjustments is available to you when files are edited. With JPEG files, you must be constantly alert for posterisation and loss of tonal nuances each time an image is adjusted.
Raw files also provide some insurance against exposure problems, such as brightness levels and colour casts. Because all image parameters are adjustable as part of the raw file conversion process, you have total control over the appearance and printability of the image you produce.
Raw files are seen as the best format for archiving images because they allow you to return to the image and process it in a different way. Conversion software continues to improve, giving you better tools to work with and more scope for adjustments with every generational change.
So what if Raw files are larger than JPEGs? Memory cards are relatively inexpensive. You can get fast 16GB SD cards for less than $30 and a standard-speed 32GB SD card for less than $50. CompactFlash cards cost more, but 16GB cards can be had for less than $100.
Shots like this one, taken in a night market in Thailand, benefit from using a stabilised lens and Auto ISO, with an upper limit of ISO 3200 set in this case. Taken with a 38mm focal length on an APS-C sensor camera, 1/30 second at f/6.3.
This is an excerpt from Photo Review Issue 58.