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.


Maggie said...

OMG - We just got back from Disney and the photos of my family do look like they were in a "police lineup." I will never forget your list.

Thanks so much


Herb said...

Ned, were you following me around the Grand Canyon area last month? I forgot my spare battery in the room on the day we took a mule ride down to the bottom. Fortunately, I realized it halfway down, when I saw my power was at half, and rationed my photos during the day, so I wouldn't miss any real keepers. On the way back up, there were some amazing shots I was able to get, but because I didn't have the spare, I did miss a few at the very end of the ride when my battery finally gave out.

I would add to your battery suggestion, charge it to the max each night, so the one in the camera will at least be fully ready to go.


Jon said...

Ned, my wife always complains you can't tell it's her in my photos. I've always told her I was trying to get the ship, monument, or landscape behind her to show everyone where we were. I guess I'll have to get closer to her, and take other photos of the wonderful view she's at. If you can't really see her in the photo, I guess it really doesn't show we were there anyway.

Jo says thanks for the article. It's her pet peeve with me on trips.

Thanks for me too.


Michelle said...

Ned, I had no idea using my digital zoom was causing many of my photos to not be nearly as good as my landscapes or indoor shots. I've turned it off. I thought it was just the same as my regular zoom.


Max said...

Ned, if noon sun is so difficult for lighting compared to early morning or late afternoon light, what do you do to combat that? Like most travelers, we're out an about all day, and we want to capture places we visit from 10am to 3pm too. I will agree that often our photos are much better early and late.

Ned S. Levi said...

Max, there are lots of things you can do to improve your photos at midday.

One of the major problems at midday is that the light is harsh and there is great contrast between that which is in direct sun, and what is in shadow. While you're eyes can see it, most likely the range of light is too much for your camera. You might want to learn about HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photography, in which you use a group the same photo each exposed for different brightness combined in your computer to make one photo.

That's a lot of work, and you're better off making that kind of photo with a tripod, but you can improve a single shot photo by making sure you don't over expose it. Get a light meter reading close to the main subject and manually use it, instead of getting your meter reading at a distance.

If you're taking photos of people, see if you can position them in nearby shade, and make sure you expose the photo for them, and not brighter surroundings.

Choose your composition carefully, understanding that exposing for the areas of the photo in sunlight will probably make the areas in shadow, black, without detail. Actually, that might even be a plus at times when taking photos of buildings.

Look for brightly colored subject matter to combat the way light washes out color at midday.

You might try a polarizing filter which can reduce the effect of reflected light in your photos and help blue the sky.

By the way, if the sky is overcast, you don't have the problem, so then you can normally just shoot away. If the overcast includes "ugly clouds" include them in your photos as that can add drama to them.

Finally, and I'm not saying this to be a smart aleck, but while traveling, go inside and have a nice lunch at midday instead of being out taking photos. In the summer you'll be getting out of the heat too. By not delaying your lunch to mid-afternoon like many travelers do, you'll not miss the much better mid-afternoon light, but you will miss the midday light and be refreshed for a great afternoon.



Vance said...

Ned, last year in London, I had taken some low light photos with my ISO up at 600. I didn't mind the noise for those photos because I knew what I was going to get.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a checklist, like I have now, since reading your article, and the next morning the ISO was at 600 instead of 100 and frankly the first 20 photos were ruined due to the unnecessary noise in them. Once I finally noticed what I was doing the photos were great.

I've never made that mistake again, but I didn't think of having a checklist to follow each morning. That will be part of my travel routine in the future.



Tim said...

Like Maggie, we just came back from Disney too. I forgot my extra memory cards and had to buy some more. The prices in Orlando are not the same as at home, and now I have more memory cards than I need. Anyone need slightly used memory cards? (LOL)


Samantha said...

Ned, your photos of Scotland are great. You're right. After looking at some of your photos which show an angry sky, it definitely makes for drama and great landscapes. I'll remember that for my next trip.


Post a Comment