Travel – Dealing with all those pictures


How many images are you going to capture? I usually shoot between 300 and 500 images per day, if I’m inspired, the number goes up, if I’m really inspired, the number goes way up.

What file format? I shoot RAW, always! This means big files, think 32, 64 and 128GB cards. If you shoot JPEG, your file sizes will be smaller so you can get by with less storage space, a 32GB card will hold a few thousand 6MB pictures.

At the end of every day, I off load images from the memory cards to the external drive and backup to the cloud or to the second drive. Getting those images was expensive, don’t skimp on backups. Internet speeds can be slow in some places so cloud storage is not always an option.

A note on shooting RAW.

RAW gives you more options in the processing and editing phase. RAW takes up more memory but cards are a lot less expensive than they used to be. I shoot RAW on all my cameras, including my cell phone. RAW files can’t be altered easily, so processing doesn’t destroy the original as can be the case with JPEG if you’re not careful. It’s also why some competitions prefer or require a RAW file so the judges can see how much the image was altered, dropping in a more interesting sky would be obvious when the original is examined.


Travelling with all that gear


What do you take with you, what do you leave at home? It depends on what your purpose is.

  • If you’re going on safari, you will want to take a “long” lens the longer the better. 200mm or more will start to get you there
  • If you’re intention is to capture street scenes in exotic towns and cities, then a short lens in the 35mm to 85mm range will be a good choice
  • Going for big landscapes? Then you’ll want to bring your widest lens
  • On a full-frame camera, you can cover it all with a couple of really good zooms like a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm, add a 1.4x or 2.0x extender and you have it covered

Tripods are cumbersome and hard to pack, I prefer a monopod because it is easier to pack and suits my needs. If you rely on a tripod, consider a lightweight carbon fiber unit, they are expensive but they are light and stable enough for most needs. I have a tripod that converts to a monopod. If your purpose is to capture images of the Northern (or Southern) Lights or the Milky Way, consider a heavy tripod for its greater stability. Alternatively, you can hang a weight under your tripod to make it more stable.

You will need something to carry all of your gear. A good backpack-style camera bag works for me, but choose something that works for you. My experience is that there is no perfect camera bag, choose carefully.

I travel with a light-weight laptop, lots of memory cards, a card reader, and an external hard drive or 2. Depending on your camera and your chosen file type, 16GB to 128GB cards will provide lots of room. Doing your initial processing each evening saves time when you get home and gives you images to share on social media if you like.

Don’t skimp on batteries and carry a few freshly charged ones with you when you go out to take pictures. There is nothing heavier than a dead camera.

Location, location, location

Going to hot sunny places? You should consider:

  • A good hat
  • Sun screen
  • Cool clothing
  • Good walking shoes

Going into cold?

  • Layers of clothing
  • A good cold weather coat and good warm pants. You might want to have a coat that is big enough to let you keep your camera inside, next to your body.
  • Gloves, depending on the severity of the cold, you might consider double layers of gloves, something lightweight to make using you camera easier and an outer pair of insulated gloves.
  • Insulated boots.

There and back again


Travelling with a camera and bringing it and lots of memorable images home is one of my greatest joys. To get the most out of a photo journey, we need to think about a few things before we go.

  • Planning and prepping
  • What to take with you, what to leave at home
  • If you have new items in your gear, you should think about getting a Canada Customs record (or similar document) so coming home isn’t an issue
  • Security


Before you go, find out all you can about where you are going and what you might see while you’re there. Having this information will help you decide what equipment you may need to have at hand to make the most of your journey photographically.

Use the internet, read books like Lonely Planet and other travel guides. One caveat here, these travel guides are written by travellers. That can be great if you share a common interest with the authors otherwise, you might get a lot of information about the best surfing in Portugal and little to no info on historical landmarks.

Look for existing pictures of places you might visit. Just because someone took a picture of it doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t, yours will be different and personal. Analysing existing images can help you determine how to approach your journey. It may be the case that the place you thought you wanted to see isn’t as good as a lesser known location.

Planning is good, but don’t be tied to the plan, serendipity can drop opportunities into your field of view. Your plan is only a rough approximation of where you need to be and what you think you’re going to record, you can be flexible with everything except transportation and lodging reservations paid in advance.


Considering Composition

How a picture is composed determines whether the image captures the viewer’s attention. What defines a great image is hard, if not impossible, to put into words, but we know it when we see it. A good picture elicits emotion, a great picture even more so. Emotions or reactions to good or great images include smiles, crying, cringing, laughing, remembering events, people or places.

We may have differing opinions of what makes a great composition, we don’t all process images the same way.

There are lots of “rules” of composition, the “rules” are only guidelines and guidelines can be bent, broken and ignored when necessary. Ssome broken rules have become fashionable.


A picture can be technically perfect but fall short of being great or even good.


An image with technical flaws can still be good or even great.

The process of composing

Much of the process of composing an image is intuitive and second nature with experience, but like any other tool, we can become complacent in its use. Composition needs to be forefront in our minds while we are capturing light to make good or great images.

It starts before you raise the camera to your eye. Evaluate your potential image, what compels you to focus on that particular scene? Does your eye travel through the scene? Does your eye return to one part of the scene repeatedly? Talk to yourself about what you see. Our goal is to visualize the end result, with practice, we will be able to see the final image before we sue the camera.

Sometimes this phase happens in seconds, sometimes it has to happen in seconds or the shot is lost. Other times it takes days or months or even years.

Eventually, it’s time to bring the camera into play, this is where we frame the shot. Does it still look like the image you visualized?

What’s in and what’s out? What you leave out is often as important as what you leave in.

Is it the right time to take the shot? Is the light still good, has the weather changed, etc.

Next we’ll look at the elements of composition.

Let there be light

In the beginning, we think it’s all about the camera.

Then we think it’s all about the lens.

Eventually, we know it’s all about the light.

The bottom line is this, we need light to make an image. Everything else is technique, it’s all in how you use the light.

We can use light to enhance your composition or we can use light as your composition.

Let there be special light

Light has different qualities at different times of the day:

  • Before dawn and after sunset – the blue hours
  • Just after dawn and just before sunset – the golden hours
  • Mid-day – the bright hours – light can be harsh, creating extreme highlights and shadows

Direct and indirect light have unique qualities. Direct light, say on a sunny day, throws distinct shadows increasing dynamic range, shade or indirect light is softer, throwing muted shadows.


The golden hour begins. The silver hull of the fishing boat has taken on a golden hue.


Intense golden hour light illuminates a train near Winnipeg, 2012. The golden light is so intense that it overpowers the colours of the containers.


Evening on the Mississippi River in New Orleans, 2012. The golden hour giving way to the blue hour. Still some of the golden glow.


The blue hour. Looking to the west near Winnipeg, we can see the remnants of sunset colours in the lower part of the sky.

Let there be front light

Front light can be very dramatic or really dull. It is good for portraits as long as we avoid the harsh hours from 11 AM to 3 PM.

Front lit images can be boring so we have to step up our compositional game with front light. Direct front light can be used best to add vibrancy to an image, making colours pop where diffuse light would mute those colours.

Note: Directionality is based on the angle of light according to the camera, not the subject.


The Guard House at Machu Picchu, Peru 2008. Direct front light emphasizes the colours and texture of the fitted stones.


Zion, Utah in 2018. Direct front light at mid-day adds high contrast to this black and white image.


The same image in colour shows the effect of stark mid-day direct lighting on colour saturation.

Let there be side light

The creative side of photography lives here. Side light brings out texture, direct side light gives deeper, longer shadows, indirect side light softens and flatters in portraits.

Side light can be the most dramatic light, but we need to be careful how we use the tool as it can emphasize flaws.


Father Cam, 1968. Shot on Ilford HP4 film with one flash in front of the subject.


Side light at Yosemite Valley emphasizes the rugged landscape.


Diffuse side light flatters the subject with soft shadows.

Let there be back light

Back light is popular for creating drama and makes for good silhouettes. Indirect backlight can add depth and dimension to an image. Drama lives here, but we need to be careful with exposure to avoid overexposing the light source, a blown out sun never looks good, meter carefully to expose for the highlights.

Like any other light source, backlight can be direct, indirect, or diffuse.


Evening in Bagan, Myanmar, 2016. Diffuse backlight.


Sunset sailing in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, 2017. Strong direct backlight overwhelms foreground objects throwing them into black. Good silhouette potential in these conditions.


Silhouette tree at Kin Beach Park near Comox, 2017. Indirect backlight illuminating distant clouds and airborne smoke from forest fires.


Monk contemplating many things, Myanmar 2016. Direct backlight illuminates the monk without causing silhouetting.