Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Taking Better Vacation Pictures

It is that time of year. Summer... People are readying to go places from the proverbial staycay to far-flung places. Photographing the journey is an integral part of the trip. This is part of the little workshop I will be giving this Saturday at Galerie 909 in St. Petersburg, Florida.

1)Travel Photography: It's not the most important thing. - Focusing on and enjoying your loved ones, seeing things through each other's eyes and sharing the experience in a new surrounding is what matters. Photography, though an important part of the journey, is subservient to that, and most of all, should not interfere with nor detract from it. We have all seen Dear Old Dads at Disney World, trying to change lenses bedeviled by what he should have been enjoying. We're not going there. Relax...you're not on assignment for National Geographic.

2) There is no substitute for a talented and educated eye, and there is no royal road to developing one. You don't have a lot of time to work on that before you go on vacation this year, so you will have to make do with what you have on this trip. To change that, study photography websites and books, constantly be aware of how light and shadow play on - and change - all that you see,  and practice, practice, practice.

3) What makes pro photographers good? Besides the aforementioned practice, experience and knowledge: Familiarity with their gear that translates into transparency. The camera does not get in their way. This is at the core of the approach I am discussing today. Freedom from technical fiddling so you can visually tell the story of your trip in a fluid and graceful manner.

4) I take most photographs for my blog, Instagram and Facebook with my phone. It is perfectly capable of dealing with any web display, and makes decent up to 11x14 inch prints. The phone is an excellent tool because it is easily portable and always with you. Some phones have big lag times, and that can be a problem regarding spontaneity. So-called intelligent metering in contemporary phones and cameras does a very good job of providing a viable file. I advise you to leave your phone on "auto".

 "P" is for professional. For this trip, set your DSLR or point-and-shoot there, set it to auto color balance, auto ISO, and if your camera has autobracketing set it to that too, plus and minus 2/3 f-stop. For your DSLR, unless you're going birding, take the kit lens, or something like an 18-135. It will do everything you need. Make sure you have a factory shade for this lens, keep it on. Do not buy a generic shade!

 If your subject's faces are in heavy shadows, use fill-flash. Test this before leaving so you have a very clear idea as to its maximum reach. Don't go beyond it. Most pictures look alike, in part, because they are  taken at eye level. Take yours above and below too. Encourage play while photographing. It will make for better pictures than heavily directed, over-controlled ones.

I pay extreme attention to the light. its strength, direction, quality and contrast. Contrast is the source of many problems in photography -- and great photographs, too. How to tell high contrast: Look at the edges of the shadows. The sharper they are, the higher the contrast. Since the flash on my phone is feeble, I have to deal with it quite often here. Both current iPhones and Androids have a feature called HDR. In high contrast, turn it on. It will give you a file with better control over contrast as well as an original, without HDR. Practice this thoroughly before departure. Using the spot meter is also helpful, but requires some practice and understanding of exposure, so we'll leave that be. I work fluidly, rapidly, and take lots of exposures. I probably shoot around 500-800 pictures on an average week. 

That is as far as I want to go with the technical at the capture end.

5) Test all of this before you go on your trip. Do some indoor and outdoor shots in varying light to see how this is working. Buying a new camera or phone to take on your trip is as bad an idea as buying new shoes for it. Take gear you are familiar with.

6) Read the manual. Yes, I know it is dreary, tedious and long, but read the whole thing, and do so with your camera/phone in your hand, looking through the menus and taking test shots as you go. Learn your menus and controls.

7) You are the Family trip Historian. Your mission is to tell the story of the trip, a story that covers highlights as well as the everyday. Every family or group has at least one ham, and while you should photograph them, also make certain you include everyone, even the most shy traveler. Photograph signs, motels/campgrounds you stay at, interior rooms before they are demolished, the rental car, food, strangers, maps with the territory in the background, people you meet (always ask first!), take many more photos than you think you'll need (someone always blinks in a group) and make sure that you include enough fore and background to establish context. Take silly pictures. Lots of them, particularly of your beloveds interacting with each other and the background. Make this a playful, creative experience, refrain from overthinking. Sexy pictures are good, too, just don't get arrested! The light that pros rely on the most is early morning and late afternoon, and it is good to be "on location" at those times, but take pictures whenever you want to. Look at the entire frame, look for distractions (like poles out of people's heads, distracting backgrounds). Remember to show a sense of place, including your feelings about it. Try multiple angles of important subjects.
Pay attention to details and distractions in the back of the photo or behind the heads of your subjects. - See more at: http://myfamilytravels.com/content/13273-inside-tips-taking-best-photos-your-vacation#sthash.AhyVfaoN.dpuf

 This is more complex than it seems, because you are in effect doing portraits, scenics, still-lifes, interiors, group and action pictures, too. 

For portraits, check the light and orient your subjects before you get started. Most of all, do not get too close if you want a flattering photograph, though often, the action and timing are more important.

Scenics should be done both with and without people in the foreground. Learning (and practicing before departure) to do panoramics if your phone/camera can do them is a huge asset when dealing with vast spaces, group shots and interiors. Keep the horizon level. If your camera has guidelines, turn them on.

Keep in mind the story of your trip and how you are telling it. Learn to work fast, take lots of pictures in a matter of seconds, and yet remain as unobtrusive as possible. Feel free to direct as needed, but remember that spontaneity has a charm of its own.

8) Take all cords and chargers for your gear, and have at least one extra battery for cameras. For the phone, take cords to charge from cigarette lighters, USB ports and power plugs. If your phone battery is old, replace it before leaving (and test the new one). Buy several memory cards, big ones, for both your phone and cameras. Test them out before departure to make certain they work. Mark them and develop a procedure so that you don't reinsert a full card back into a device. Do not fill the cards to the last shot, this can cause problems. when you're 30 pictures from the end, remove the full card, insert a fresh one. If you take a computer with you, download the cards at night, if possible, but don't reformat them unless you absolutely need to reuse them. Redundancy is good.

 9) Post-Processing - No camera or phone is perfect. For actualizing your vision, that "viable file" I mentioned early needs tweaking, adjustments to try to make it look the way you want it to. For the phone, I use "Snapseed", a free program you can pick up at the Play Store. For other cameras, I use an old simple version of Photoshop Elements, but there are also free programs available that can do a great job, such as Picasa and Irfanview, which have their own sites. Make sure you go to the original home sites to download either of these. Processing in an art in itself, and one should take time to familiarize oneself with any post-processing software. 

10- I am sure your vacation pix will end up on Instagram and Facebook, but I am going to suggest something else: Hard drives crash, services come and go. Put the finished keepers onto a USB drive, and also make books. Yes, books. Make one for every family member that went on the trip. Edit the pictures down to an absolute minimum of the best of the best, use the bookmaker's site software, write captions, and stories, and order one. If it is perfect, order the rest. Books don't crash, and I can guarantee you that at a future date your children will be forever grateful you did this and treasure them.

This, my friends, may be as good as it gets for photography.

--- Luis Gottardi

Copyright Luis Gottardi, 2104. All rights reserved.

Links: Vacation photos 1

National Geo Family Photos





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