To get the most from your photography it’s really important to have a good working knowledge of your photographic equipment. Achieving optimal results starts with knowing your camera and reading your manual, so take it with you on your travels.
ALWAYS BE READY
Always have your camera ready, as happenstance is the origin of a great many photographs. Pre-set your camera to Program and if possible set the camera to Auto Expose Bracket (AEB) this is a particularly good technique to cover difficult light situations. Switch to continuous shooting drive and check you have enough space on the memory card. And don’t forget about the batteries - ensure they’re fully charged and that you have some spare ones. It's also quite handy to carry a pen and notepad in case you need to write down some useful info like names, places, type of bird etc.
All too often we concentrate on the main subject and forget the background. Background is very important as it makes a subject stand out more clearly. By dropping the F stop (i.e. widening the aperture to F5.6 or lower) it is possible to blur the background, although this is relative to distance from subject: the closer you are the more effective it is. Also be aware of any distractions such as branches, pieces of grass or a patch of unwanted light that can mar your picture.
CREATE YOUR MOMENTS
Develop the art of ‘seeing’ images. Awareness, anticipation and imagination are essential ingredients and with practice the eye starts to look for potentially good images. Example: You’re on an empty beach where you see little to photograph but by simply shifting your perspective, with a bit of practice and patience, you can find images such as a wave splashing over a black rock in cascades of white or a hungry seagull scooping down for a tasty catch or a yacht on the horizon or even something as simple as a close up of a beautifully decorated shell.
DIFFERENT LENSES AND FOCAL LENGTHS
If you have just one lens or shot from basically the same focal range your images will have a same feel to them, by changing your focal length and shooting the same scene with say a zoom telephoto lens at its maximum of 400mm then again at its minimum of 100mm and then changing to a 17mm wide angle lens, you will have a broad range of different images from the same point of view.
When travelling if possible try and minimize the amount you take with you because:
Fill flash is a wonderful day time technique that allows you to take great pictures when the natural light conditions have become harsh and there is too much shadow or contrast. Fill flash is a controlled amount of flash that is added to natural light, this is not always possible on point and shoot cameras but most Digital SLR have a flash compensation button which allows you to adjust the intensity of flash output. This improves the image by filling in shadows and reducing contrast. The key is to keep the flash subtle - too much and the shot looks artificial.
Working with light is undoubtedly the key factor in making attractive and striking images. Utilising the best light of the day, which is usually late afternoon or early morning, is therefore vital as nothing compares to beautiful natural light. The hour after sunrise and before sunset are generally referred to as the golden hours, as this is when the light is at its richest with hues of yellow, orange and gold. Subjects photographed in this light are saturated with warmth and colour and have a wonderful look to them.
Horizons can be straightened later by using software but this may sacrifice some picture quality for something that is easily corrected in the field. The horizon line plays a role as its position influences how the image is perceived. Position it in the middle it’s boring, position it up high and the foreground dominates, position it down low and the sky dominates. By ‘playing’ with horizon line it can dramatically alter the appearance of your pictures.
ISO determines the sensitivity of film or the camera to light. The higher the ISO the higher the sensitivity, example 200 is ‘faster’ than 100. The fantastic advantage of digital cameras is the ability to dial up the ISO easily to get sharper shots in low light or capture faster moving images. The disadvantage is the higher the ISO the greater the noise or grainy texture in the photo or image file. Thus where possible use a tripod or support structure to prevent camera shake, and unless specifically looking for grainy images avoid shooting anything above ISO 400.
JPEG, TIFF, RAW
KEEP AN OPEN MIND
There do exist definite rules for photography, but it is above all an art form and art is creative. Quality images are to be found with the sun at its highest point and polarization does work at other than right-angles to the sun. Great images can be made on overcast low light days and in the glaring sunlight. In other words you don't have to align yourself with the common clichés, keep your mind and camera open to all possibilities
A simple UV filter makes almost no discernable difference to your images but can be invaluable in protecting against scratching the expensive front lens optics and is considerably cheaper to replace!
MAKE THE EFFORT
Waking up early or heading out in the pouring rain are not always easy options but fortune favours the brave perhaps you won’t find much or you may strike it lucky with the proverbial pot of gold. Also many others are not taking advantage of these situations so unique shots can be found. Photographers often hurry up to wait but quite simply if you’re not there you won’t get it! Great photographs are not only made on fair weather days; some of the most dramatic imagery is when the wind is howling and the elements roaring. It is not called the Cape of Storms for no reason!
There is no need to put away your camera when night falls, instead get out a tripod and think of exposures in minutes instead of seconds. As a general rule overexpose by one or two stops to make the dark images lighter but if in doubt bracket it (the same shot taken at different exposures).
A small torch is very hand to help see what you’re doing and to spot highlight parts of your image, such as a tree. Night time shots are very vulnerable to camera shake so a sturdy support is essential as is a camera release cable so you don’t cause any vibrations with depressing the shutter button, but if you don’t have a release cable, no problem, use the inbuilt camera timer button.
Exposure is the amount of light hitting the cameras sensor which in turn is determined by the aperture (how much light is let through) and shutter speed (duration of exposure to light).
Camera meter systems read tone, in other words the degree of brightness, not colour. High tone elements would include bright subjects such as clouds and sky and low tone elements are shadows and dark subjects.
When a picture is taken the camera tends to try and average out the high and low tone areas. Situations when you need to be careful are with very light or dark subjects (i.e. a black buffalo or a white egret bird) and also when subjects are strongly side lit i.e. half in shadow and half in light.
The solution is to underexpose or overexposure accordingly using the compensation button (+/-). Many Digital SLR’s have preview image functions that flash highlight the overexposed areas and those that are underexposed will simply be very dark. So by shooting, previewing and using the compensating button it is possible to correct exposure in the field or just bracket the images.
PLANNING and PATIENCE
For wildlife photography getting to know your subject’s behaviour patterns can be invaluable to predicting action shots. For example: a bird is seen collecting nesting material from the same tree, the photographer sets up unobtrusively (possibly even with a hide) and waits patiently for it to return. The resulting images can be very rewarding.
Don’t just photo from a human’s point of view get down low for a worm's eye view. Climb a tree or attach the camera to a monopod and raise it to the sky for a bird's eye view. Get a waterproof camera housing for a shark's eye view.
Tell a story, include the environment, skew the horizon, tilt a building, add an element like a tree in the foreground, photograph people insanely close and impossibly far. Look for the unusual.
ROAM A LITTLE
90% of tourists take iconic photos from the same vantage point. One of the first things to do on a ‘photo stop’ is to look for more interesting spots to shoot from. Walk up and down the road, climb for a higher vantage point. It is amazing what can be achieved even in just a few minutes by searching for an alternate view of a familiar subject.
One subject that says so much about your location and adds interest to any travel album, are signs. No matter where you are in the world you’ll find unique signs that point out some aspect of that particular location. Photographing them can be fun, humorous and often gives context to your travel shots.
Not enough can be said on the necessity of a sturdy support structure when taking quality pictures. A medium or even light weight tripod is an invaluable photographic travel item and is worth the hassle of lugging it around to obtain those pin crisp images.
However, an alternative if photographing mainly from a vehicle is a empty durable bag with a zip that can travel empty and be filled with rice or beans purchased in the destination country and hung out on the vehicle window for a nifty support.
Don’t forget to save, save, save!! Memory cards are susceptible to damage or even theft and often your images can never be replaced. So save frequently to disk when travelling or upload them often various websites that allow you do so such as www.flickr.com
Often we tend to photograph in a certain way and for many this tends to be horizontally, perhaps because this feels more familiar to us. Change it, go vertical (portrait angle) and photograph from both perspectives.
WHITE BALANCE (WB)
WB is the system a digital camera uses to measure the light conditions and eliminate any undesirable colour bias. Our eyes are good at interpreting light colour so as not to notice colour caste. However different light sources have different castes, e.g. fluorescent light is actually quite green. Most cameras operate in auto white balance which is fairly accurate but don’t ignore the other white balance settings such as flash, direct sunlight, cloudy, fluorescent etc.
ZOOM IN ON THE LITTLE THINGS
Point and shoot cameras often have a flower symbol for the macro function and Digital SLR’s require macro lenses or it is possible to attach extension tubes to regular lenses as discussed.
Zooming in on the little things is a fascinating insight into an often neglected world and can be a way to photograph a wealth of new material and abstract images.
YOU SHOULD ENJOY YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY
Photography is one of the greatest hobbies as it allows you to record memories forever, is relatively cheap once you have the required digital equipment (although it can become ridiculously expensive if you suffer from the incurable disease ‘lensatitis’!) and is an endless source of inspiration and learning.
Use your camera to play, experiment with techniques, change angles, take note of the rules then break them. Photography is an art form, be creative, have fun and most importantly enjoy yourself!
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