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.
Be there – Be present – Be ready
There are a few things to keep in mind when you travel to “exotic” places.
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.
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.
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.
If you’re wearing a backpack, move it to your chest when you’re in crowded areas.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Light has different qualities at different times of the day:
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.
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.