Monday, December 28, 2009

Photographing fireworks in winter weather

July 4th fireworks in PhiladelphiaAs Thursday night becomes Friday morning this week, we’ll go from New Years Eve to New Years Day. Across much of the country that means fireworks.

Photographing fireworks takes planning and knowledge at anytime, but January 1st in much of North America also means it will be cold. Cold weather offers additional challenges for fireworks photography.

Here are my tips for photographing fireworks in cold weather.

Photography Exhibition: The Art Institute of Chicago - Chicago Cabinet: C. D. Arnold Photographs of the World's Columbian Exposition

C. D. Arnold. Chicago Day, Grand Plaza in front of Administration BuildingThe Art Institute of Chicago, regularly has extraordinary photographic exhibitions. This exhibition, Chicago Cabinet: C. D. Arnold Photographs of the World's Columbian Exposition is a great example of a wonderful photographer of the late 19th century and shows an important time in the history of the United States.

This exhibition will run through February 28, 2010

Monday, December 14, 2009

My Tripod is Verboten! What do I do?

Eiffel Tower, ParisIt’s happening more and more to travelers across the world. Regardless of the reason, use of tripods in some locations is forbidden.

You can’t use a tripod on top of the Arc de Triomphe, on the third level observation deck of the Eiffel Tower, or the observation deck of the Empire State Building.

At the Chichen Itza archaeological site in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, I’m hearing reports tripods are now banned.

Many cities don’t permit tripod use on busy sidewalks.

Photography Exhibition: The Getty Museum - In Focus: The Worker

The Getty Museum - In Focus: The WorkerThe Getty Museum in Los Angeles has one of the great photographic collections in the world. This exhibition of 40 prints of men, women, and children working include a range of photographic processes from daguerreotypes to gelatin silver prints.This exhibition, In Focus: The Worker, is one of the Getty’s most interesting.

This exhibition will run through March 21, 2010

Monday, December 7, 2009

NSL's Annual Holiday Photography Gift Suggestions

Steadybag photo courtesy of Visual Departures.It's the holiday time of the year, time to think about gifts for friends and family who include photographers; beginners, through serious amateurs.

Purchasing photography gifts can be difficult, especially for serious amateurs, as many prefer to carefully choose each component of their "kit" themselves, but I think there are some possibilities that almost any photographer would say, "Thanks very much!"

I'd stay away from choosing cameras, lenses, tripods, most bags, and software, unless you know of a specific item they want, but have held off for some reason. Instead, look for items which could augment already existing equipment or other items which might help.

I have a few choices below that I think most would find very welcome in a wide price range ($18–$300 or more, if you want to go there).

Photography Exhibition: Florida Museum of Photographic Arts - Andrea Modica: Flights of the Soul

Fountain, Colorado, Fountain Series, 2004, by Andrea ModicaThe Florida Museum of Photographic Arts holds some of the best photographic exhibitions in the southern United States. Their current exhibition, Andrea Modica: Flights of the Soul looks like an amazing exhibition of Ms. Modica’s work. While I haven’t seen it yet, having seen her photographic work at the Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago, I’m certain this exhibition at the FMPA will be an exciting example of a terrific contemporary US artist.

Ms. Modica has been the recipient of both a Guggenheim Arts Fellowship and a Fulbright-Hays Research Grant. Her work has been on exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the George Eastman House in Rochester, and The National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C.

The exhibition runs through January 10, 2010

For more than ten years, Andrea Modica has been photographing a group of children in rural upstate New York. It is here, through a young girl named Barbara and her extended family, that Modica has created an amazing body of her work. Transforming reality into fantasy, Modica creates narratives that seem to have no beginning or end, yet present endless scenarios.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Editorial: FTC blogger review honesty regulations are disingenuous at best!

Review graphicI remember the big “Payola” scandals in the record industry of the 60’s. You may have lived through them yourself, or read about them in school. Record companies gave “promotional” payments to radio disc jockeys to play specific songs and give them ample air time in order to popularize them.

Alan Freed, the number one New York City disc jockey and early supporter of rock and roll, had his career shattered by a payola scandal.

It seems as though the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is concerned about possible blogger payola from manufacturers, distributors and service providers in exchange for positive online reviews of their products. They’ve attempted to codify a new set of rules to prevent this potential problem; FTC 16 CFR Part 255, Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

There are so many problems with the new regulations, I hardly no where to begin, so I’ll start with what I do in my Blog, and in my other reviews, published on the Internet or in print.

Photography Exhibition: Royal Ontario Museum - Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913-2008

Bette DavisThe Royal Ontario Museum continually shows some of the best photographic exhibitions in North America. The Museum includes The Institute for Contemporary Culture. The Museum’s diverse collections of world cultures and natural history with almost 6 million objects make it one of the largest museums in North America. The Vanity Fair Portraits: Photographs 1913-2008 is one of the most interesting photographic exhibition shown on the North American continent this year.

This exhibition will run through January 3, 2010

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Photographing from boats and ships

Hubbard Glacier from Disenchantment BayI don't know about you, but I like cruising. I've been on large ships and small. I also enjoy canoeing and rafting. Taking photographs from any of these craft can be a real challenge.

Viewpoints can be highly limited. On a ship you may be far above the water's surface. In a zodiac or raft, you're right at the water. Water can change light conditions, and its movement can affect the photographer's ability to capture the image desired.

The photographer's ability to transmit the scale of the image is often impared in water shots as the frame of reference relevant to the photograph's viewer is missing or unfamiliar. In addition, the environment of being in a boat or on a ship can be hostile to your photographic equipment, and taking photographs.

Photography Exhibition: The National Portrait Gallery - Faces of the Frontier

Edward Sheriff Curtis Self-PortraitPeriodically the National Portrait Gallery has some incredible photographic portrait exhibitions. Faces of the Frontier: Photographic Portraits from the American West, 1845-1924 is such an exhibition.

This exhibition will run through January 24, 2010

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Photographing Seascapes

Hubbard Glacier, Alaska from the bayTraveling to the beach, a seaside city, a seaport, visiting a location on a bay, or cruising seems to be on almost everyone’s list. Each has a myriad of photographic opportunities.

Each of the opportunites have similar components, but in a vast variety of arrangements and conditions. Seascapes can be extremely demanding. The variety of weather conditions, and lighting can rapidly change, and offer difficulties in protecting photographic equipment.

Seascapes, like any landscape photograph are often considered best devoid of structures and people, but actually can be enhanced by indiginous buildings and wildlife. Sometimes having people in the shot can enhance it as well, although many would say, including me, that it’s not exactly a seascape at that point.

Photography Exhibition: Philadelphia Museum of Art - Frederick Sommer Photographs

Frederick Sommers photograph of Max ErnstThe Philadelphia Museum of Art has become one of the foremost exhibitors of fine art photography in the nation. Frederick Sommer Photographs is a wonderful exhibition worthy of this great institution.

This exhibition will run through January 3, 2010

Monday, November 2, 2009

Photographing Stained Glass Windows

Stained Glass Window from Notre Dame de ParisWith the tremendous technological improvements in DSLRs and even digital point and shoot cameras, coupled with the improvements in software used to remove lens and positional distortion as well as edit photographs in general, it’s now possible for travelers to make wonderful photographs of stained glass windows in the churches, synagogues and mosques they visit.

In most instances you’ll be able to get very good exposures of incredible stained glass windows while you travel, but there will be pitfalls, and most of the time there will be distortion to deal with in post processing once home.

If you’re going to at an out of the way church or museum you may be fortunate enough to be permitted to use a tripod and remote shutter release, but if you go to busy places like I’ve visited recently in Paris, such as Notre Dame de Paris, Musée de Cluny, or Sainte-Chapelle, that won't be possible.

Photography Exhibition: The Art Institute of Chicago - Irving Penn: A Tribute

Irving Penn. The Angel, 1946 (printed 1990)It seems as though this is the year to recognize the incredible career of Irving Penn. This new exhibition by the Art Institute of Chicago, Irving Penn: A Tribute, seems to be another of their superbly carried out exhibitions.

This exhibition will run through December 13th

Monday, October 26, 2009

Slowing down your camera's battery drain!

Nikon DSLR BatteryI don't know about your digital camera, but my Nikon D-200, a DSLR, seems to eats up its battery charge too quickly. That's one of the major reasons I have a vertical grip on my camera. The grip allows me to use two batteries at a time, doubling battery life.

Today's digital cameras, whether DSLR or Point and Shoot units depend upon batteries to power the camera and its variety of moving parts and electronic circuits; no battery charge, no photos.

You should be aware of what you can do to extend the life of your camera’s battery. I also recommend carrying a spare battery at all times when taking photographs.

Photography Exhibition: The Museum of Photographic Arts - Picturing the Process: The Photograph as Witness

Picturing the Process: The Photograph as WitnessThe Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, CA, continually has great photography exhibitions. Picturing the Process: The Photograph as Witness is particularly interesting. If you’re in the San Diego area in the next few months, don’t miss this exhibition. I’ll be there in December.

The exhibition will run through February 6, 2010.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Basic Composition 001

Neptune Pool at the Hearst CastleThe best photos taken are the photos which are carefully planned.

Even while traveling, when we’re often rushed, when we’re preparing to go to the next site, or the next destination, taking the time to plan the current photo will produce the best photo of the current scene.

Sure, planning each photograph means setting the proper exposure, getting the focus right, and ensuring other technical aspects of the photograph, such as white balance, are as desired, but making a great photograph goes well beyond that.

Making terrific travel photographs, or any photographs, requires a well thought out composition. Carefully select your precise image and its design, order and presentation of the image’s subject matter to grab the viewer’s attention, and help them understand the photograph’s story.

Photography Exhibition: The Museum of Modern Art - New Photography 2009

New Photography 2009MoMA, The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, has exhibitions displaying some of the most interesting trends in contemporary photography. New Photography 2009 is one of those intriguing exhibitions.

This exhibition will run through January 11, 2010

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Doesn't everyone love a parade?

Phillies fan at 2008 World Series victory paradeWhat do you think? Is the old adage, “Everyone loves a parade” true?

When we travel, there are often photographic opportunities at parades. In some cases we just get lucky that there is a parade where we’re visiting. In many cases we traveled to be at the parade, or at least include it as part of our journey.

For hundreds of thousands each year the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and Carnival in Rio de Janeiro are destinations unto themselves. The nightly parade at Walt Disney World is attended by millions each year. The oldest new year’s parade in America, the Mummers Parade, with its classic string bands and guady costumes, continues to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors, each year, to Philadelphia from every corner of the Earth.

You might happen upon a special parade like the one in my example photographs, the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies World Series Victory Parade, which more than 3,000,000 attended. Travelers to Philadelphia that day got a big treat to be able to photograph and attend that parade.

Photography Exhibition: The Getty Museum - Irving Penn: Small Trades

Irving Penn, Mrs. Amory Carhart, New York, 1947The Getty Museum has become one of the premier museums exhibiting great works of photographic art.

At the Getty Museum they are currently showing the work of Irving Penn, a great American photographer in the exhibition Irving Penn: Small Trades.
This exhibition will run through January 10, 2009

“Working in Paris, London, and New York in the early 1950s, photographer Irving Penn (American, born 1917) created masterful representations of skilled tradespeople dressed in work clothes and carrying the tools of their occupations.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Do filters for digital cameras make sense?

Traditional color filters for film photographyBefore the advent of high quality digital cameras, professionals, and advanced amateur film photographers traditionally used filters to modify both the color and intensity of light exposing the film, as well as to generate special effects.

Digital cameras operate in a different world with respect to color. Photographers can easily modify color in their cameras, or during post processing in their computers, via controlling white balance for scene color accuracy or effect.

Warming, cooling, and filters which convert fluorescent light to look like daylight, may be required for film, but digital cameras can achieve the same effects by their internal manipulation of the image’s digital data.

The use of traditional photography filters for modifying the color of the light, is unnecessary for digital photography, but other filters can work well for digital photography.

Photography Exhibition: The National Gallery of Art - In the Darkroom: Photographic Processes

Darkroom: Photographic ProcessesThe National Gallery of Art has an extensive collection of photographic images, however, most are not regularly on display. This exhibition, In the Darkroom: Photographic Processes, will take 90 photographs from its permanent collection. It will be a treat to see them. 

This exhibition will run from October 25th through March 4, 2010

Monday, September 14, 2009

Getting my camera ready for the day's travel photography

Nikon D200 DSLRWhile traveling, or for that matter, during any photo shoot, for a variety of reasons, photographers may vary any number of major camera settings which control exposure metering, focus, shutter mode, etc. By the end of the day, one’s camera’s settings may be significantly different than when the day began.

The next morning, it’s likely we won’t remember how the camera’s settings were left at the end of the prior day. That can result in  photographs which need extensive retouching and repair, totally blown shots which can only be discarded and missing great shots all together.

At some point this happens to everyone, but it is avoidable.

Photography Exhibition: Phoenix Art Museum - Face to Face: 150 Years of Photographic Portraiture

Face to Face: 150 Years of Photographic PortraitureThe Phoenix Art Museum periodically runs wonderful photographic exhibitions. Face to Face: 150 Years of Photographic Portraiture looks to be one of the year’s best photographic exhibitions in the US.

The exhibition will run from September 19, 2009 through January 10, 2009.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Should you use your camera's digital zoom?

It is unfortunate, but more and more digital point and shoot camera manufacturers are choosing to describe their camera’s zoom capability as “total zoom,” instead of quoting the camera’s optical and digital zoom capability separately.

Most people are familiar with the concept of zooming, but I’ve found that few understand the difference between optical and digital zooming. As a result, many travelers are devastated when they come home from a fabulous trip, with highly digitally zoomed photographs, to find them blurry, with the jaggies, and lots of noise.
Lens cutaway view showing the lens elements

In optical zooming, the individual pieces of glass (The are the glass elements -seen above in the cutaway view of the lens; the vertical pieces in the photo having convex and concave shapes.) of the lens are mechanically moved to manipulate the image the photographer wants to capture. By realigning the glass elements of the lens, the subject of the image is either magnified or reduced in size, with the angle of view either narrowed or expanded.

When zooming optically, all the magnification or reduction of the subject in the image is manipulated by the lens itself, so that the photograph captured uses the entire sensor area of the digital camera. This is true from the widest angle shot (wide angle focal length) with the least magnification, to the narrowest angle shot (telephoto focal length) with the maximum magnification.

Photography Exhibition: Museum of Contemporary Photography - Reversed Images: Representations of Shanghai and Its Contemporary Material Culture

From Reversed Images: Representations of ShanghaiThe Museum of Contemporary Photography, in Chicago, IL has some of the most exciting exhibitions of contemporary photography in the US. Reversed Images: Representations of Shanghai and Its Contemporary Material Culture looks like it will be another wonderful exhibition at the Museum. If you’re in the Chicago area, don’t miss this exhibition. I plan to go myself, if at all possible.

The exhibition will run from September 25, 2009 through December 23, 2009.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Photographing Sacred Spaces

Congregation Rodeph Shalom, Philadelphia, PAWhen we travel we certainly see and often visit churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, and other religious shrines. Many contain some of the world’s great artwork. Many are architectural gems unto themselves. Many have extensive grounds. Many are important for their history, or their part in historic events.

Some are the center of their town’s or city’s culture, and attract visitors from across their region, country, and some attract visitors from across the world.

Often we find shops, vendors, and other places supporting the sacred space. That means many photo opportunities besides the place of worship itself, and those of its grounds and interior.

Gaining access to a place considered sacred by those who maintain and belong to it, brings responsibility to behave with sensitivity to the place of worship itself, those who worship in it, and those responsible for running it. The building, grounds, and the people must be respected.

Photography Exhibition: The Getty Museum - In Focus: Making a Scene

The Letter, Guido Rey, 1908The Getty Museum in Los Angeles has one of the great photographic collections in the world. This exhibition shows of some of their most interesting works of scene setting, as opposed to natural settings.

This exhibition, In Focus: Making a Scene, is one of the Getty’s most interesting.

This exhibition will run through October 18th

Monday, August 24, 2009

Travel Tripod: My quest paid off

In the first article of my Tripod Series, Traveling with a tripod: It's love — Hate, I discussed the benefits of using a tripod when traveling. I’ve been taking a tripod with me for years while traveling. You can’t take night photographs, or other long exposure shots without a tripod.

Gitzo GK2580TQR with RRS BH-40LR headIn the second article in the Series, How to Choose a Tripod, I discussed the various criteria to use in choosing any tripod, including one for travel.

So what makes a Travel Tripod different than any other tripod, and why might choosing a Travel Tripod require us to make compromises, and force us to rank our criteria by their importance to us?

When choosing a Travel Tripod there are two criteria briefly mentioned in the second article in my Tripod Series which makes the choice difficult. A Travel Tripod has to be easy to pack and take on your trip. In addition, presumably on most trips, you’re going to be carrying it around for long periods of time, so it needs to be very light weight.

My main tripod is made of carbon-fiber. Even so, it weighs about 6 lbs with the head. Carrying it around for several hours at a time can be very tiring. Folded it won’t fit in my carry-on, no matter how it’s positioned.

I chose the Gitzo GK2580TQR Travel Tripod (legs), using my criteria from How to Choose a Tripod. This is how I went about it:
  • I’m about 66” tall. When I put my Nikon D200 atop the head, on the legs, it adds about 3” to the tripod’s height. My eyes, like most adults are about 4” or so below the top of my head. To use the tripod without raising the center column, Therefore to be comfortable for me, I prefer the tripod to be at least 50” high with the legs at their smallest angle setting with the center column down.
  • While I can’t attach the head to the legs without the center column, I can purchase a shorter center column to replace the current one, so the camera can be on the tripod even lower to the ground than I can get it now (16”).
  • The tripod legs are unbraced.
  • The tripod legs are made with carbon-fiber, using the pultrusion method of manufacture, which has the best weight to stability ratio.
  • The tripod legs weight 3 lbs and with the head/clamp I chose, just under 4 lbs aggregately, better than I hoped for.
  • Folded Size, is the 2nd critical criterion specific for travel tripods. Considering the size of my allowable roller carry-on, and the size of my camera/computer backpack, I was very pleased that my tripod is just under 17” long folded, and less than 4.5” wide.
  • The tripod must be able to easily carry the weight of my D200, and more. The tripod must support the camera, the heaviest lens I will use with it, my flash with bracket, head/clamp, and the plate on the camera to which the clamp holds on. (More on that in a moment.) The tripod legs support 15.4 lbs, which is sufficient.
  • The diameter of the tripod’s legs are a critical specification for maximizing the tripod’s resistance to torque. I plan to use my Nikon 80mm-400mm lens with this tripod. It’s length at 400mm, and its weight are somewhat less than a typical 300mm prime lens, so I chose to use legs which have the first leg section at a diameter of 28mm. I’ve now tested the tripod. It holds my equipment very steady, enough for long exposure shots.
  • The tripod head, which sits atop the legs is what allows you to move the camera to compose your photographs. For the purposes of this article, it’s enough to say, in my opinion, the ball head is the best choice for Point and Shoot, SLR, and DSLR cameras (mine). In my opinion, the best ball heads are manufactured by Markins and Really Right Stuff (RRS). I’ll have an article on ball heads on the Blog soon. I chose the RRS BH-40 LR ball head.
  • As mentioned in the second article of the Series, the best clamp for SLR/DSLR camera/lenses is an Arca-Swiss style clamp. It allows quick attachment and detachment, and provides a solid, secure base and connection between the head and your camera/lens. I chose an Arca-Swiss lever style clamp by RRS, which allows for instant release of the camera/lens compared to the screw knob style. A point and shoot camera can use a direct screw attachment successfully.
  • Point and Shoot cameras, and lenses need only a flat plate for a clamp to grip. Point and Shoot cameras are light, and flopping them in the ball head to obtain a vertical orientation will not noticeably affect their stability. Long lenses used with an SLR or DSLR camera are usually attached to the head, via a collar, instead of the camera the camera. The camera/lens is rotated in the collar to change orientation. The lens is attached to the head for balance. Otherwise, an SLR/DSLR with lens is attached to the tripod via the camera. I prefer to use an “L” plate with the camera. To vertically orient the camera, you use the short side of the “L” plate keeping the camera/lenses weight directly over the tripod’s central axis, instead of flopping the camera to the side in the head’s slot which substantially diminishes the stability of the tripod. I’m using a RRS flat plate for my long lenses and and “L” plate for my D200.
D200 with 80-400mm lens attached to tripod via lens collar and plate

The compromise one must make, when choosing a Travel Tripod is stability (weight capacity, and resistance to torque) versus folded size, and tripod weight. It’s extremely hard to find a combination which works.
My quest was successful. The Gitzo GK2580TQR tripod meets my varied specifications, and the head and other parts by RRS fit the bill perfectly. By the way, in my opinion Gitzo makes the best tripods. Manfrotto tripods are also excellent, and there are other brands which are highly serviceable.

Please note, however, that if I wanted to use a longer lens, such as a Nikon 500mm telephoto lens for birding, the GK2580TQR legs would not have the necessary stability.

Photography Exhibition: The Philadelphia Museum of Art - Skyscrapers: Prints, Drawings, and Photographs of the Early Twentieth Century

Looking North from an American Place, 1930, Alfred StieglitzThe Philadelphia Museum of Art, in Philadelphia, PA, has recently been more creative in developing their photographic exhibitions. Skyscrapers: Prints, Drawings, and Photographs of the Early Twentieth Century is an example of their new direction, where they are melding photography with art of other milieus.

This exhibition will run through November 1, 2009
Icons of modernity and testaments to human achievement, skyscrapers rose to towering heights in major cities across the United States during the early decades of the twentieth century. These technological feats of architecture and design furnished necessary solutions to the problems set by rapid urban growth while simultaneously providing exciting new material for artists. Skyscrapers offered the contemporary artist a way to document a city’s development, a pretext for experimenting with modernist aesthetics, and a subject on which to project personal or collective ideas and emotions.
Curators, John Vick, the Margaret R. Mainwaring Curatorial Fellow in the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, and John Ittmann, Curator of Prints have done an extraordinary job in this exhibition which features photographs of Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand

If you’re in the Philadelphia area through November 1st, I strongly suggest you take in this terrific exhibition.

As I travel, I love seeing the work of other photographers as I hope you do. If you know of a new photographic exhibition which you think the Blog should publicize, please contact me.

Monday, August 17, 2009

How to Choose a Tripod

Last week I discussed the benefits of using a tripod. Of course, first and foremost the job of a tripod is to hold your camera/lens steady. If your choice of tripod can’t do that one thing, in my opinion, you’ve wasted your money purchasing it.

Choosing a tripod is very personal because it needs to be sized to your height, handle your camera/lens/ancillary mounted equipment weight, and the length (focal length) of the longest lens you will use with it. I think it’s obvious how your height and the camera’s weight come into play, but perhaps not why the length (focal length) of the lens is important.

Travel Tripod with Ball Head and Arca Swiss style clampLens length is important for two reasons. First, the longer the focal length of the lens, the higher the magnification. The more magnification the lens provides, the more any shake or vibration of the lens will cause your photograph to be blurred. Second, the longer the focal length of the lens, the longer the lens will generally be. The weight of the lens extending well past the central axis of the tripod will torque the tripod legs while the tripod is supporting the camera/lens.

A tripod holding a lens with high magnification, and torqued must have sufficient structural strength to prevent image blurring due to movement cause by outside forces such as ground vibration, wind, the camera’s mechanical actions, or human touch.

When we are talking about tripods, we are really talking about 4 distinct pieces which make up the total tripod.
  1. Tripod legs which support everything else.
  2. Tripod head which permits the camera/lens to be moved to compose the photograph.
  3. Tripod head clamp which is used to attach the camera or lens to the tripod head. ¹,²
  4. Camera or lens plate, which is held directly by the tripod head clamp. ¹,²
¹ It is possible to screw the camera or possibly the lens directly to the tripod head, though this does not permit the quick attachment or disattachment of the camera or lens from the tripod/tripod head which I believe is important.

² When using longer lens with a camera you generally attach the lens directly to the tripod head, rather than the camera.

Use the following criteria when choosing a tripod:
  • Height: Ideally the height of your tripod’s platform holding your camera should be at least as high as your eye level with the legs open at their smallest setting angle. Outside you often need one or two legs set at a level lower than where you are standing which makes the tripod feels shorter than it is. Therefore it’s better to have a little extra leg length than not. Remember that the head atop your legs on which the camera/lens will sit will add some inches to the height of the tripod’s legs. This is especially important for travelers as it can reduce the leg length you need for your tripod, which can reduce its weight. Plus, in my opinion you don't want to use the center column to bring your viewfinder to eye level. (If at all possible you shouldn’t use the center column as when up it adds instability to the tripod.
  • Center Column: Many quality tripods have a reversible and removable center column which can help you get a low angle, macro, and close to the ground shot. Some swear the capability to set the center column horizontally is great, but I’ve never thought much of it. There are both smooth and geared columns. I prefer smooth.
  • Leg Spread: The best tripod legs are unbraced with independent multiple angle positioning to work on uneven terrain, and allow the tripod to get low to the ground for such shots as macros of flowers and insects.
  • Leg Composition: Carbon-fiber offers the greatest weight to stability ratio, and is easier to hold in cold weather than aluminum. Unfortunately, carbon-fiber comes at a cost, a significantly higher cost. If you can afford it, you won't regret purchasing carbon-fiber tripod legs. Carbon-fiber can make your tripod legs truly “travel light,” yet strong.
  • Weight: If you’re carrying around a tripod while you’re on your feet all day, your tripod can’t be light enough. My travel tripod (legs) weighs 3 lbs. It’s ball head, with clamp weighs another 18 oz. The legs are carbon-fiber.
  • Folded Size: Ordinarily, most people don’t care about the length of a tripod when folded, but this is very important for travel tripods. You want it to fit in your airplane carry-on if at all possible, otherwise you’ll have to pack it in your checked luggage. My travel tripod closes to just 16.75 inches.
  • Leg Diameter: You need a diameter which enables the tripod to carry the necessary weight, and resist torque, to be a solid and steady platform for your camera/lens. Many tripods, while being able to withstand the weight, can’t resist the torque, and so still shake and vibrate when used.
  • Head: In my opinion, for most still photography, the best and most versatile head to use is ball head, but there are many brands and choices. To help narrow your choices down next week in my third and final article of the series I will tell you which brands I prefer.
  • Clamp: There is no better clamp to attach your camera/lens to your ball head than the Arca-Swiss style clamp. It allows quick attachment and detachment, and provides a solid, secure base for your camera/lens. I use one myself, with a quick-release lever.
  • Camera/Lens Plate: There are two basic styles of plates which bolt to your camera, to attach it to an Arca-Swiss style clamp; straight, and “L.” I prefer the “L” plate for my camera, as it allows me to quickly switch between horizontal and vertical orientation, and keeps the weight of the camera/lens directly over the central axis of the head, maintaining maximum stability. A flat plate requires the camera be flopped to the side, placing the camera/lens weight to the side of the head instead of over it.
Travel Tripod folding for packing in carry-onI’ve now discussed the benefits of using a tripod, and the general criteria you should use to compare potential tripod choices, to find one which meets your needs.

Next week, I’ll discuss real world examples of tripods and tripod heads, clamps, plates, and explain how to use the criteria to choose a travel tripod. I’ll warn you up front, choosing a travel tripod, at this time, requires compromises, especially if you want to use a long lens on your camera.

Photography Exhibition: Whitney Museum of American Art - Photoconceptualism, 1966–1973

Bruce Nauman (b. 1941), Waxing Hot, 1966-67 (printed 1970), from the portfolio Eleven Color Photographs.The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, New York, regularly has very special photographic exhibitions. Photoconceptualism, 1966–1973 follows in that tradition.

This exhibition will run through September 20, 2009
The final installment in a three-part series taking a closer look at photography in the Whitney’s collection, this exhibition focuses on works by conceptual artists of the late 1960s and early 1970s. During that time, photography became a favored medium (along with video) for art that placed more importance on concepts than on aesthetic and material concerns and rejected the necessity of the gallery or museum as a primary site of exhibition. The presentation features work by Mel Bochner, Adrian Piper, Bruce Nauman, Michael Heizer, and others.
If you’re in the New York City area through September 20th, I strongly suggest you take in this terrific exhibition. From it you can tell how extraordinary the Whitney’s collection of photographs is.

As I travel, I love seeing the work of other photographers as I hope you do. If you know of a new photographic exhibition which you think the Blog should publicize, please contact me.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Traveling with a tripod: It's love — Hate

You know, it really is a love — hate relationship between travel photographers and their tripods. Some weigh so much you get tired just looking at them in your room. When traveling with a group, you may get some “evil eyes” staring at you while you take time to set them up and take them down.
Monument Valley, Utah

 Unfortunately, without a tripod, you can’t get really good night photographs, multi-image panoramas, sharp wildlife photos at distance, or sharp macro photographs of beautiful blooms, even with lens vibration reduction or camera image stabilization.

If you don’t have a tripod, or are considering one, but haven’t yet purchased one, it’s time to look at what benefits to travel photography you can derive from taking a tripod with you.
  • Enhance sharpness — The “Photography Hand Holding” rule of thumb, for 35mm camera “equivalent” focal lengths, is the slowest hand-holdable shutter speed is 1 divided by the focal length of the lens. A 200mm lens can be hand held no lower than 1/200 sec. For print sizes of 8x10 inches and larger, even 1/200 is too slow. While some people can hand hold better than others, and lens vibration reduction / camera image stability can help, when you get to it, the rule is accurate. A sturdy, stable, properly sized tripod will get you sharper pictures every time.
  • Create photographic opportunities — There are many photographic opportunities for which a tripod is essential; night photography, time-lapse photography, macro photography, wildlife photography, timed delay exposures, panoramas, etc. You might use a tripod to be creative such as in action photography where you pan with the subject and blur the background to show movement.
  • Use lenses with longer focal lengths — The longer your lens’ focal length, the higher the magnification of your image, the more difficult hand holding the lens will be, and the more likely the image will be blurred by even a minute amount of camera shake. The longer the lens, the more the shake will be amplified. Vibration reduction and image stabilization cannot eliminate camera/lens movement as effectively as a properly sized tripod.
  • Enhance photographic image quality — When you hand hold your camera in low light conditions, you often must either use faster film, or set your sensor ISO setting higher on your digital camera, since there is a lower limit in reducing your f/setting, when you try to keep your shutter speed high enough to hand hold your camera. By placing your camera on a tripod, you can keep your film speed or ISO setting low, improving your photograph’s quality.
  • Enhance depth of field — When you hand hold in low light, you must use a low f/setting, opening up your lens’ aperture to let more light in, and/or a high film speed or ISO setting. Using a low f/setting reduces your photograph’s depth of field. Using a tripod enables you to use higher f/settings, closing the lens’ aperture to create a longer depth of field.
  • Reduce distortion — Some better tripods allow you to get close to the ground for extreme low-angle shooting. This in turn can help you better compose the photograph and minimize keystoning and other types of distortion.
  • Enhance image framing — There’s nothing better than a tripod in assisting a photographer to control the camera/lens position to permit you to perfectly compose your photo by using its panning and tilting movement.
  • Enhance videos — You’ve seen TV cameras at sporting events, news events, and other locations. Many, especially the ones far from the action, are on tripods. There is no doubt that their use for video reduces camera shake and ehances smooth panning to follow movement. With more and more digital still cameras able to take short videos, tripods for those shots are becoming more important daily.
  • Enhance flexibility — You can use a tripod like many photographers to hold more than just a camera. I’ve often used a tripod as a light stand, or to hold a reflector.
  • Enhance photographer’s discipline — In my article, “Get great photos from your camera, instead of whining about needing a new one,” I said, “All too often digital camera ‘users’ just point their camera in the direction of their subject and shoot. No thought goes into photographic composition or exposure.” It takes a bit of time to set up a tripod with a camera and lens. This is a great time to think about your image, set an appropriate exposure, and carefully compose the photograph with thought.”
The Louvre at Night, Paris

 Perhaps you think a tripod is only for expensive SLR or DSL cameras. Think again. If you have a Point and Shoot camera, look on the bottom of the camera. I’ll be you’ll find a threaded hole for attaching a tripod. Tripods work effectively for all kinds of cameras. You just need the right one.

Next week I’ll discuss choosing the right tripod.

Photography Exhibition: Victoria and Albert Museum - Capturing the Moment: Photographs by Reg Wilson

Anthony Sher, Richard III, 1985 by Reg WilsonThe Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England periodically has wonderful photographic exhibitions. Capturing the Moment: Photographs by Reg Wilson is one of those terrific exhibitions.

This exhibition will run through January 10, 2010

Reg Wilson is one of Britain's most prolific performance photographers.  From the 1960s he has recorded four decades of the performing arts in all their richness and variety, capturing the great and the good on stage, backstage and in the studio.

This selection from Wilson's archive, chosen by the artist, shows every aspect of the performance process from the studio to the finished product.  It also demonstrates a range of techniques, from the staged photo-call to the snatched backstage shot and includes some of the earliest stage photography and colour productions.

If you’re in the London, England area through early January, 2010, I strongly suggest you take in this terrific exhibition.

As I travel, I love seeing the work of other photographers as I hope you do. If you know of a new photographic exhibition which you think the Blog should publicize, please contact me.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Avoiding Some Digital Travel Photography Goofs

From time to time we’ve all been there; a great photo opportunity blown because of a silly mistake, misstep, forgotten item, or other reason. Here’s a few suggestions for you to avoid eight common digital travel photography goofs.
  • Don’t forget the spare battery — Actually, this one has never happened to me, but a few years ago, in Las Vegas, I realized I left my Nikon battery charger in my office. Fortunately, I was able to have it Fed-Exed it to me. If I would have been out of the country — oh my! I now have a permanent checklist to make sure I take all necessary equipment.
  • Philadelphia at SunsetDon’t forget, your camera has the settings from the last time you used it — Did you ever pick up your camera in the morning, to take a photo of a scene that quickly disappeared, only to find it’s out of focus because you left manual focus on the day before? I have a set procedure each time I get ready to take photos, to ready my camera. I use a DSLR, but you should have a checklist for whatever type of camera you use. Following my checklist ensures my DSLR properly set for the first shot of the day.
    • Check battery power.
    • Check memory card capacity remaining.
    • Set auto-focus to on.
    • Set focus mode appropriately.
    • Set lens vibration reduction appropriately.
    • Set shutter mode into single shot vs. continuous shooting.
    • Set the ISO.
    • Set shooting mode to aperture priority.
    • Set meter mode to 3D Matrix Metering.
    • Turn vertical grip shutter release off.
    • Set shooting menu setup to appropriate bank.
  • Don’t leave your spare memory cards at home — I know many who have done this. Their extra memory cards are always on the dresser. Just like batteries, memory cards are on my checklist.
  • Turn off your “Digital Zoom” (Digital Point and Shoot Cameras) — Often if this is forgotten, your telephoto shots will have terrible quality compared to the rest of your photos. “Digital zooming” is not really zooming, in my opinion. “Digital zooming” enlarges a portion of an image, “simulating” optical zoom. To do that, the camera crops the image and then enlarges the cropped portion to full size. That’s why you lose image quality. I recommend you turn your “digital zoom” off, but if you feel you’ll miss a photo you really want, and you aren’t printing your photo past 4”x6”, you may be okay.
  • Don’t let your travel photos of your family look like “Police Lineups” in “Law and Order” — I keep seeing this when people show off their vacation photos. In those photos, family and friends are standing erect with straight faces or forced smiles. It’s as if someone said, “Say cheese, or else!” When you take those shots, make them come alive by having your group do something. Have them relax, especially children. You could have them looking at someone, talking, or maybe leaning at a railing. The possibilities are endless.
  • Contrary to popular opinion, the light at noon isn’t ideal — Midday is about the worst time to take photos, if it's sunny because the overhead sunlight is strong and harsh. Even if you properly expose the photo, the colors tend to get washed out. Of course, sometimes your opportunity for a particular photograph will not be at an ideal time, so make sure your exposure is spot on. The best daylight times for photography are in the early morning and late afternoon; the “Golden Hours,” which I’ve discussed before. The low-angled sun produces photos with soft, rich, warm colors (yellow, reds, and oranges), and the long shadows produce great contrast.
  • Scotland - The Black IsleDon’t avoid taking cloudy day photo — I just shake my head when I hear travelers put their camera away on cloudy days. Cloudy overcast skies are great for photographing close-ups of people. The diffused illumination softens their facial features. The colors of flowers are often more vivid under gray skies. Dark angry skies can help you make fantastic landscapes.
  • Don’t let your spouse be just a dot in her photo at the Grand Canyon — You’ve got to decide what the real subject of your photo is when you document “You were there.” All too often your real subject is too far away. If you’re taking a photo of a person, remember, they are the subject of the photo, not the background. A tip you might want to follow for this type of photo is to use the “Rule of Thirds.” Put your subject in the right or left third of the photo. That way you’ll get a great photo of the person, and the background will still stand out too.

Photography Exhibition: Photographic Center Northwest - Photo-Op, 14th Annual Photographic Competition Exhibition

The work of Onejoon CheThe Photographic Center Northwest, Seattle, Washington, is at the forefront in advancing the study, practice, and appreciation of fine art and documentary photography through education, exhibitions, and public programs. Their Photo-Op, 14th Annual Photographic Competition Exhibition shows off some of the best work of today’s professional photographers.

This exhibition will run through September 4, 2009
This international annual juried exhibition remains among the most popular shows in PCNW's annual schedule. The competition is open to all photographers, all photographic processes, and all themes. The juror looks for work that represents a larger, cohesive body of work and selects a short series from each photographer chosen. Choosing from over 2500 images, the exhibition is full of surprises - fresh & exciting work!

This exhibition features: Jowhara Alsaud, Andrea Bakacs, Mary Ellen Bartley, Katie Baum, Magda Biernat, Colin Blakely, Tim Carpenter, Onejoon Che, Thomas Holton, Stephanie Kirk, Brian Knappenberger, Alex Leme, James Luckett, Kevin Miyazaki, Liz Obert, Colleen Plumb, Shawn Records, Tom Reese, Andy Reynolds, Rebecca Sittler, Lacey Terrell, Ian Whitmore
If you’re in the Seattle area through early September, I strongly suggest you take in this amazing exhibition.

As I travel, I love seeing the work of other photographers as I hope you do. If you know of a new photographic exhibition which you think the Blog should publicize, please contact me.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Panorama Photography Part II

In Panorama Photography Part I, I discussed what panorama photographs are, and why they’re so appealing.

Now in Part II, I discuss techniques for taking photographs for panoramas created from multiple photographs, and stitched together into a single spectacular image.

There are three major rules of thumb to ensure your images can be successfully mated to make a panorama.
  1. You need exposure consistency in your photographs to ensure colors match from photo to photo which make up your image. One of the most common problems in stitching photographs together is differences in the color of the sky, due to inconsistent exposures photo to photo.
  2. You need to ensure there is enough information in adjacent photographs that they can be successfully “glued” together. This accomplished by photo overlap.
  3. You need to eliminate image parallax so that there are no ghosts in your final image and that lines in the panorama are aligned and look normal.
Galapagos: North Seymour Island

Here are my major guidelines for taking photographs to use in creating multiple photo panoramas:

  • Use a tripod to keep all your photos in the same horizontal plane.
  • If your panorama contains parallel vertical or horizontal lines, such as when the panorama includes a fence or building facade it’s important that your lens’ pivot point, or entrance pupil (the optical center of the lens), not the camera, be located directly over the central axis of rotation of the panorama. It’s relatively easy to locate the entrance pupil of a prime, or zoom lens (each focal point). By rotating your camera/lens over the pivot point, the problem of parallax, where the photographer can’t align vertical and/or horizontal lines in pairs of photographs when stitched together disappears. Really Right Stuff, the manufacturer of my panorama head has an excellent tutorial about locating a lens’ pivot point to eliminate parallax. (Please note, that while Really Right Stuff continues to call the pivot point the “nodal point,” which is an incorrect use of terminology, their method of locating the pivot point is the best way I know of to quickly locate and set the pivot point.)
  • You need to keep your exposure settings uniform throughout your images, so their brightness and color will mesh, photo to photo. You should scan the entire scene making note of the aperture and shutter speeds your camera is suggesting, then pick one pair of settings in the middle, or slightly darker to make sure any sky details are preserved and manually set it, so that the settings will remain the same for each photographic image used in the panorama.
  • Monument Valley, UtahAmply overlap each of the images in your panorama. You wouldn’t have liked my photo of Monument Valley with a white bar in it because I failed to overlap each photo enough. I overlap by 30% each time. Some say 15% works just fine, but I prefer more. Increasing the amount of overlap helps reduce “flaring” that happens when the software is forced to use all of the image frame, including the corners which may show distortion depending on your lens choice.
  • Look for movement in your overall scene. While movement in a scene can make it more interesting at times, too many or large blurry areas in your photos can ruin your final panorama. When overlapping images have items which don’t precisely match, you get a blur, which can ruin the shot. I try to take each of my multiple images quickly to avoid the problem of movement. By the way, I do realize that some movement is unavoidable. You just need to minimize it.
  • Shooting with shorter focal length lenses more often than not introduces problems of lens distortion. When there is lens distortion the stitching between side by side images can be unnatural looking. Many wide angle lenses suffer from barrel distortion to varying degrees. You can avoid this problem merely by shooting with longer focal length lenses.
  • You should also minimize the use of filters, to obtain exposure and white balance consistency between the photos which will make up the complete panorama. Polarizing filters, in particular, often darken the corners of your photographs. Depending on the angle of light to the filter they can create a significant variation in sky color from photo to photo in the panorama, preventing you from creating a combined image which looks as one. I never use polarizing filters when shooting panoramas. For that matter almost any filter can add some vignetting to your images, which interferes with good stitching and the final image, so I normally never use a filter on my lens other than the UV filter which I keep on all lenses to protect them.
  • I normally turn off auto focus and preset my focus manually for the entire group of images which will comprise my final panorama photograph. Image size can change with focus shift. If that happens, it’s likely you’ll never be able to achieve a high quality alignment of your stitched photos which make up the overall panorama image.
  • I manually set my white balance of my DSLR to eliminate color shift from photo to photo so they will seamlessly stitch together. This is especially important for landscapes showing substantial sky.
Good luck. Let me know if these guidelines help you put together your next panorama.

Photography Exhibition: The Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego - Ansel Adams: A Life’s Work

Ansel Adams - YosemiteThe Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego mounts eight to ten major exhibitions per year that represent the history of the medium, contemporary works, photojournalism, and varied photographic processes. This is, in my opinion, the outstanding museum concentrating on the photographic arts in the US.

Their current exhibition, Ansel Adams: A Life’s Work, is a fabulous exhibit of one of Photography’s giants.

This exhibition will run through October 4th

The exhibition includes over 80 photographs by the 20th Century master, and celebrates Adams as an artist and conservationist.

A Life's Work features an overview of Adam's work from his early years in Sierra Nevada and Yosemite Valley, to his work in the Japanese Internment Camp at Manzanar, as well as his well-known masterpieces.

As one of the most celebrated and renowned artists of the 20th century, Ansel Adams expanded the practice and appreciation of photography as no other photographer has before, or since. As an environmentalist and a vital member of the Sierra Club, his efforts as a pioneer and crusader for the preservation and protection of America's natural beauty has been duly celebrated and recognized.

Of all the photographers who have influenced my work, none has had the influence of Ansel Adams, his work, and his teaching about such things as obtaining the right exposure for your photographs.

If you’re in the San Diego area before this exhibition leaves, this is an exhibition which no one should miss.

As I travel, I love seeing the work of other photographers as I hope you do. If you know of a new photographic exhibition which you think the Blog should publicize, please contact me.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Panorama Photography Part I

When you go to an exhibition of photographs, what type of photo always seems to be one remembered? It’s the sweeping panorama.

Monument Valley, Utah
Panoramas of a scene seem to take the image to new heights. They make landscapes more dramatic and vivid. Mountains become more majestic. Horizons become more exciting. Even a panoramic style view of great architecture becomes more admirable. The above panorama, made from five photographs stitched together, taken in Monument Valley, far better represents the feeling one gets traveling among the Valley’s natural wonders than squarish photographs.

We’re used to seeing photographs in the typical 3:2 aspect ratio of width to height which started with the invention of the 35mm film format, and is carried through on today’s digital cameras, both the DSLR’s and Point & Shoot varieties. The most common print sizes of 5x7, 8x10, and 11x14, generally adhere closely to the squarish 3:2 ratio.

I think that part of the reason panoramas so appeal to the eye is their departure from the 3:2 format, and the easy way they draw your eye across their “canvas.” The appeal of Cinemascope, the first widely accepted “wide” movie format, is much the same. Cinemascope allowed movies to go to a 2.66:1 aspect ratio, twice as wide as the conventional format of 1.33:1. With Cinemascope, the breathtaking beauty of the background of some of the classic movies of the 50’s and 60’s and beyond was greatly enhanced.

Imagine what “Ben Hur” or “Lawrence of Arabia” would look like, reduced to a square screen. Without their wide screen aspect ratio, in my opinion, neither of these films would have won an Oscar for “Best Cinematography.”

The Louvre at Night, ParisYou don’t have to limit your panoramas to landscapes, though they are the most familiar use of the wide aspect ratio photograph. Buildings, city-scapes, groups of people, and parades are all great subjects for panoramas. Isn’t this photograph of the Louvre in Paris at night made more dramatic by its wide aspect ratio?

There are two basic methods for producing a panorama photograph. The easiest way is to take a wide angle view of your subject and crop it to produce an image with a wide aspect ratio. This is how I produced the photograph of the Louvre above.

Some Point and Shoot digital cameras have a “Panorama Mode.” If your camera has one, use it. It will enable you to get some spectacular results with some practice.

The other method for creating a panorama photograph is to take several photos of your subject, moving your camera across the subject, being careful to overlap each shot, then stitch them together with an image editor on your computer. Both Photoshop and Photoshop Elements contain tools to stitch photos together, or you can use specialized software to accomplish this task. I use PanaVue Image Assembler for my multi-image panoramas. It allows me excellent control in creating the combination image.

While you can hand hold your camera to take multiple photographs stitched together into a panorama, I strong suggest you use a tripod. Using a tripod allows you to easily keep each photo in the panorama in the same horizontal plane. I use a special panorama head on my tripod for these shots, which makes leveling the tripod easier, and helps you rotate your camera a specific number of degrees between each photo.

While you’re looking horizontally to produce panoramas, there may be some opportunities for vertical panoramas too. Don’t loose sight of these vertical possibilities.

Hubbard Glacier, AlaskaDon’t forget the “Rule of Thirds” when taking panoramas.

Take my word for it, or try it yourself. Placing the bay’s horizon in the lower third of this photo of the Hubbard Glacier in Alaska, close to the intersection of the lower third with the middle third, made this panorama much more pleasing to the eye, than if I placed the bay’s horizon across the middle of the photograph.

In Panorama Photography Part II, I will discuss techniques for taking your photographs for multiple image stitched panoramas.

Photography Exhibition: The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston - Viva Mexico! Edward Weston and His Contemporaries

Edward Weston, Mexican Cloud, 1926, Courtesy the Getty Museum, Los AngelesThe Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, periodically has terrific photographic exhibitions. Viva Mexico! Edward Weston and His Contemporaries is one such exhibit.

This exhibition will run through November 2, 2009
In the decades following the Constitution of 1917, Mexico became a powerful magnet for foreign artists and intellectuals drawn to its ideal climate, dramatic landscapes, and inexpensive cost of living.

Photographer Edward Weston's early biographer, Nancy Newhall, described Mexico as his "Paris," because Weston's short time there had such a lasting impact on his career. In the mid-1920s a vibrant photography movement in Mexico City centered around Weston and his Italian-born lover, Tina Modotti, and, during the 1930s, on the Surrealist-inspired work of Mexican native Manuel Alvarez Bravo, as well as the American photographer and documentary filmmaker Paul Strand.
The exhibition covers a wide range of Weston’s subjects, from portraits to avant-garde nudes, to abstract urban views and landscapes, and much more. The exhibition also includes work by Modotti, Strand, Bravo, and Edward Weston’s son, Brett Weston.

If you’re in the Boston area through November 2nd, I strongly suggest you take in this terrific exhibition.

As I travel, I love seeing the work of other photographers as I hope you do. If you know of a new photographic exhibition which you think the Blog should publicize, please contact me.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Taking Photos of People while Traveling

Tour guide in full 18th century costume in PhiladelphiaI’ve mentioned it before. Adding people in your travel photos brings context to locations, and often can exemplify, present and unveil the culture of wherever your visiting. Especially if you’re visiting a city, town, or even a rural populated area, including people in your photos can boost their quality and interest.

The problem is, adding people into your photos can be fraught with pitfalls, beyond setting the exposure and focusing your photograph correctly. For example, in the US, it’s generally true that when someone is out in public they have no right to privacy, so therefore, in general, you may photograph them, even if they are recognizable in your photograph, without permission. In France, if someone is included in your photograph and they are at all recognizable, you must have their permission to include them in your photo.

Here are my top 10 suggestions for including people in your travel photographs.
  1. Research the law and customs in the countries and specific locals to which you will be traveling. There is an abundant amount of information on the Internet about this subject, so I would start there. Consulting with a professional travel photographer may be helpful, however, don’t expect to get specific “legal advice” from a pro travel photographer, unless they happen to be attorneys too. I know I scrupulously stay clear of offering “legal advice” about this subject.
  2. If people end up in my photographs incidentally, such as in the street scenes I took at the Philadelphia Phillies 2008 World Championship parade, I don’t seek their permission to have their photographs taken. Most of them aren’t recognizable anyway.
  3. If I’m at a performance or concert, if there had been no directive which bans photography at the event, the performers are normally considered public figures (public, limited, or involuntary) and therefore I generally don’t ask permission to take photos of the event and its performers.
  4. Phillies fan at 2008 World Series victory parade in PhiladelphiaIf a person is the main subject of my photograph I request permission to take their photograph, such as in this portrait of a woman at the Phillies parade all decked out in her Phillies clothing and jewelry, with her World Series memorabilia.
  5. Most of the time, asking permission to take someone’s photo means catching their eye, smiling, then pointing to my camera. I asked the question that very way to the gentlemen at the top of the article, who leads tours of historic Philadelphia in full 18th century costume. Such gestures and motions normally cross all language barriers. It’s been very rare I’ve been turned down.
  6. If my intent is to offer the photograph I’m taking for sale, I always attempt to get written permission to take the photo of the person. I have a bunch of release forms, and a pen, I carry in my bag for such a purpose. As stated before, I’m a photographer, not an attorney so I’m not going into the legal ins and out of this subject.
  7. When I ask someone to take their photograph, I try to keep in mind the tone and words I’d like to hear from a photographer asking me for permission to take my photo.
  8. Family in front of Old Christ Church along Market Street in PhiladelphiaIf I’m taking a photograph of children, I always attempt to obtain permission from their parent(s). Sometimes this can be very difficult considering the persistence of kids who want their photo taken, or because the parents or a sitter aren’t around, and because of the fear these days of child pornography, whether real or misplaced.
  9. If someone says no, or says yes, but seems uncomfortable when I go to photograph them, I don’t take their photograph. In some cultures people want to be very polite and say go ahead, even though they prefer not to have their photograph taken. In some cultures they believe a photograph will capture their spirit and absolutely don’t want their photograph taken. Sometimes a person is just shy and can’t say no, even though they want to. I never take out a long lens to sneak in a photograph of a person if they don’t want their photo taken.
  10. Short of sending a copy of the photo to someone I’m photographing while traveling, I’ve never “paid” to take a photograph of a person. I know some who have paid cash, and others who have given token gifts for the photos. I don’t do that.
Those are my suggestions and general rules of thumb for taking photographs of people while traveling. If you have some more good ones, put them in the comments, or email me.