“f8 and be there”

Be alert to opportunities that arise. As Yogi Berra said “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Try something different. When everyone else is looking in one direction, look the other way, literally and figuratively.

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While taking pictures of a winter landscape near Winnipeg, Manitoba, chance gave me an opportunity

Be there – Be present – Be ready

Some tips on travelling to “exotic” places

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There are a few things to keep in mind when you travel to “exotic” places.

  • It’s their country and their culture, we are their guests, they are not our servants
  • One of our guides warned us about judging his culture through “western” values, just because it’s not the way we do it a home does not mean that it is wrong
  • If you are requested to follow certain rules in certain places, like covering your head or shoulders in a sacred site, do it or stay outside
  • If you are taking pictures of individuals be prepared to pay a small amount, it can mean more to some people than it does to you, and it’s quid pro quo, you got something – they got something
  • In some cultures, people will want to see the picture, show it to them, it will go a long way to fostering good relations
  • If you are in a place that does not allow photography, leave the camera at your side and take home a memory
  • Some cultures you are not permitted to photograph children, in which case, we don’t take pictures of children
  • Some cultures don’t want you to take pictures of their people – period, so don’t do it
  • Please don’t give out candy to children, take things like school supplies and fruit instead

In most cases the people are as interested in you as you are in them and their country. Most of the people you will meet are very polite, but don’t push it.

Travelling – Security

Your safety and that of your companions and your gear is paramount, no one wants to get mugged or robbed. Most places I have visited are no less safe than parts of our big cities. Thieves and pickpockets are everywhere. If you’re going to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, be aware of light-fingered bystanders. Big cities in the height of tourist season require vigilance.

Your primary and best defence is situational awareness, be aware of everything that’s happening around you, particularly from behind.

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Don’t let your handbag or camera hang loose at your side or on your chest, hold on to it with at least one hand like the young lady in the center of the picture above (it would be better is she had the strap across her body.) A favourite technique for thieves is to cut your camera or handbag strap and run. Get and use a slash-proof camera strap, PacSafe makes a good one that is very resistant to slashing. Using a Spider Holster in lock mode is another good deterrent.

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If you’re wearing a backpack, move it to your chest when you’re in crowded areas.

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Stopping to enjoy a street band is part of the enjoyment of travelling, just make sure that you don’t loose track of what’s going on around you.

Don’t hang your camera on a chair back while you eat, leave it in your lap. If you are at a buffet, take your camera with you when you load your plate. Don’t rely on someone else to guard your gear, their situational awareness may not be up to the task, especially if they are not used to packing gear.

As I said before, most places are safe. Don’t get paranoid about it, if you look scared, you become a target.

Travel – Dealing with all those pictures

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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.

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Travelling with all that gear

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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.
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There and back again

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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

Planning

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.

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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.

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

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