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!

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