Monday, December 15, 2008

Take holiday travel photos like a pro: 3 insider tips

Holiday travel for family gatherings and vacations often offer unique photographic opportunities. I’ve got some help for you to conquer three holiday travel photographic challenges; fireworks, photographing elderly family members at family gatherings, holiday lights.

Whether it’s a family outing to Disney World, New Year’s Eve in Times Square, or great family holidays at Grandma’s, you don’t want to miss saving any special memories with your camera.

Wherever you’re traveling, there will probably be fireworks to bring in the new year.
Whether you’re using a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera) or a Digital Point and Shoot Camera (DPS), or even a film camera, to get great fireworks photos you need a tripod. Get one which fully supports the weight of your camera and lens. As a pro photog, I have an expensive carbon fiber tripod for my heavy DSLR, with attached long telephoto lenses weighing several pounds. If you have a light weight DSLR, or a DPS camera, you can purchase a very workable tripod for $70-$130.

If you’re using a DSLR, get a cable release, and use it to release the shutter. Whatever camera you’re using, turn off the flash.

You’ll need to go to manual focus, and set your distance to infinity. I suggest you use a normal to wide angle lens, or setting on your camera. Set your ISO (sensor sensitivity to light) to 100, or the lowest available setting above that. Set your camera mode to manual. You might think the lens aperture should be wide open, as it’s dark at midnight, but you’re taking photos of fireworks, which are very bright lights, so set your lens between f/8 and f/16. Start by taking your photo with the shutter open for a second or two. Look at the photos in your camera, and then adjust how long you keep your shutter open accordingly. You can do this by setting the shutter to bulb on most cameras. Consult your manual about this.
Many will be traveling to spend time during the holidays with parents and grandparents. Photographs of the elderly can be difficult, but special consideration of them can make a difference.
When indoors, try using the available light in rooms instead of the harsh light of a flash. Straight on light from a flash can make an elderly person’s skin look outer-worldly, and bounced flashes can produce unwelcome shadow and skin detail. If you need more light when inside, try to move your subject near a window. If you’ve got a Point and Shoot camera, and you’ve got to use a flash, go ahead. It’s better than missing a great shot. If you have a DSLR with a separate flash, put a diffuser over it if possible.

To get wonderful photos of grandparents, engage them to reminisce about their lives. You’ll be able to capture their spirit as they smile, laugh, or even shed a happy tear about their life experience. Consider focusing in on their smile, eyes, hands, and profile. Capture them interacting with family members.

Take photos of them where they are most comfortable. For my grandmothers, that would have been in the kitchen or at the dining room table. For my dad, that’s in the den, or out on the golf course. Taking a walk with them, if they’re able, can produce great photo opportunities.
Many of us enjoy looking at and photographing holiday lights on buildings. At some travel destinations the lights can be spectacular. At Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Cinderella’s Castle at the holidays is bathed in more than 200,000 tiny white lights, making its exterior shimmer, as if it’s made out of ice.
Rule one, to get good pictures of holiday lights — Turn off your flash! I repeat — for most pictures of holiday lights, turn off your flash!

I said most, but for some situations you’ll want to use a flash. If you want to get an indoor shot of the family Christmas tree, you’ll probably need a flash to see the ornaments in your photo. If all the family’s children are posing under the tree, you might use your flash, but you might find the Christmas-tree lights are sufficient, and give a beautiful luminescence to their faces in the evening. In the morning, you might find the glow from the sun through the window perfect for a photo.

Outdoors on houses, stores, and streets, to capture the lights, don’t use a flash. Try shooting at twilight. You’ll capture some color in the sky, and detail in buildings, rather than the pitch-black tone which comes later in the evening.

Set your ISO at 100 for holiday lights photos. It eliminates the noise in the shots to get pleasing photos. When you use a low ISO for outdoor holiday lighting, that generally means your exposure will be long enough that the photos will require you to use a tripod, or at least find a way to strongly brace the camera in your hands. I suggest you use a tripod, if possible.
Enjoy the holidays!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

TSA “approved” bags are nice, but here’s why I’m sticking with my old carry-on

TSA-approved security checkpoint bags are finally shipping. This is a little off the beaten path concerning Travel Photography, but many of us carry our laptops for travel storage, viewing and editing of our photos while away from home and office, so I thought I'd talk about the new security checkpoint bags. I wouldn't be surprised that soon there will be some photo gear bags which can hopefully breeze through security. I hope they are better than these bags.

I’ve had a chance to check out two of them; the Targus Zip-Thru Corporate bag, and the Skooba Checkthrough bag. Briefly, I like the Targus bag a bit better than the Skooba bag, but neither would move me to stop using my Skooba MegaMedia Bag. says the Skooba Checkthrough bag has “plenty of organizer pockets; … sturdily constructed; well-thought-out design …” but it’s “expensive; bulky; when fully loaded, may be too heavy to carry on one shoulder or briefcase-style.”

As someone who carries the larger MegaMedia bag on my shoulder, I have no problem with the bulk or weight of the loaded Checkthrough bag. One of the bag’s problems, in my opinion, is that there isn’t quite enough room in the bag to take my laptop and accessories, plus a small point-and-shoot camera and accessories, plus papers and other materials for my business meetings.

I don’t like the interior storage area for my business papers. The area is pretty tight, and has no divider. I like an exterior storage area because it’s easier to stuff extra items in it, as you can bulge out the side, and you don’t have to disturb your equipment to get to your papers. says the Targus Zip-Thru, has a “well-padded laptop compartment; may speed your way through airport-security checkpoints,” but “the TSA agent may force you to take your laptop out anyway … [it's] less roomy than it looks.”

I found the corporate version of the bag roughly equivalent to the size of the Skooba Checkthrough. Like the Skooba, there isn’t enough storage for me. The area for business papers is larger in this bag, and has a divider, which is good, but like the Skooba bag, it still isn’t on the exterior of the bag, where I prefer it.

Unlike the Skooba bag, which reveals the laptop behind a clear panel, the Targus bag doesn’t, but TSA’s idea behind these bags is that the laptop is alone in a compartment, with nothing below or above it, while it goes through X-ray. The Targus bag accomplishes that task.

There is a problem with both bags, however, which could require secondary screening when used. On the Targus site, they warn you to avoid stacking electronic items in your bag, and keep your bag as uncluttered as possible.

In my opinion, the design of the pockets and compartments in both bags literally force electronics stacking and clutter, unless you really pack light. I’ve been caught for that a few times, and had my bag hand searched.

When your accessories are stacked in layers, when X-rayed, agents can’t view individual gear items. My MegaMedia bag normally has enough room and an organization which permits me to spread my accessories out better than these bags, and I don’t mind removing my laptop from the bag for inspection, so I’m sticking with it.