Monthly Archives: February 2017

A Guide to Taking Travel Photography

Expert Advice on the Essentials

Travel photography guides can be hundreds of pages long, offering detailed advice on everything from camera settings to composition. In this short-but-sweet guide, we’ll show you the basics of preparing, taking and storing your photos – what you point the lens at is up to you!

The best way to get the top photography possible from your trip is to travel round with your camera to hand and your eyes and mind wide open. Absolutely everything you see can be made the subject of an interesting photo – just because the street is strewn with rubble doesn’t mean the dust won’t glow like fire as the sun sets. If you’re desperate for a specific shot, come back at several times of day so the scene might be emptier, busier or better-lit, depending on what the final outcome looks like in your head.

Let’s get one thing straight – you don’t need a degree in photography to get back from your trip with some awe-inspiring shots. It’s perfectly easy to wow your friends (and even get a picture or two published) with a basic camera and very little technical knowledge…

What do I need?

The type of camera you use does not matter. Whether you’ve got a brand new 12 megapixel SLR or a cheap-as-chips compact digital from Woolworths, it’s what you do with it that counts. Great shots can be taken with any equipment.

That said; some things to check if you’d like to get the most of your camera include:

Whether or not the camera has manual functions – These include variable shutter speeds and aperture sizes, and allow you a lot more creative freedom, especially when shooting in poor lighting or difficult conditions.

Whether you prefer shooting digitally or on film – Both film and digital have advantages over their counterparts. Film photography is still the favourite of the purists (partly because the size of your prints can be much larger than a digital sensor allows), but digital photography has taken the world by storm. If you enjoy experimenting, digital might suit you better, as you can instantly see if your latest shot came out as you expected (and you won’t waste countless reels of film in the attempt!).

The option of taking a spare battery or two – Some digital cameras have internal rechargeable batteries – they’re great, but if you run out it always pays to have an extra set on you somewhere. Chargers and rechargeable batteries can save you a fortune in the long run.

Your storage of choice – If you’re planning on shooting with film, always carry spare rolls with you – there’s nothing worse than running out of shots just as the perfect picture comes into view. With digital, find out how many pictures you can store at maximum quality on your memory card – when travelling it’s always advisable to keep the quality high, as it might be a long time before you get the opportunity to visit again!

Before you leave

There are several things you can do to prepare for a trip if you’re keen on showing off your photographic abilities.

Setting up an account with a website that hosts your photographs for free is a great idea, as it means you can give all your friends and family visual updates of your dream trip. That way, you can just email everybody a link to your page, and they can visit it regularly to be kept up to date!

As a member of gapyear.com you can upload your travel photos to the site for free. Not a member yet? Tsk. The site is free and easy to join – why not sign up today?

The site is simple to use, but we recommend practising by uploading a few pictures before you leave the country, just so you don’t end up trying to figure it out while you’re spending money in a Thai internet café!

Take a look at photographs in guidebooks and travel magazines – they can be a great way to train yourself to avoid the usual snapshots and are an inspiration to really experiment with the pictures you take.

Once you’re out there

A camera shouldn’t just capture what you see – it should encapsulate the feel of a place, so that when you return home, your photos can take you right back to the moment you took them: the smell of the air, the sounds all around you, and so on.

Don’t always try to concentrate on the big picture – quite often your best pictures will come from focusing on the little things, such as Lucy Cartwright’s shot of incense sticks on the first page of this guide or the photo of the fire extinguisher above. People might say that the devil is in the details, but you’ll frequently find the best pictures are too.

A lot of people can feel embarrassed to pull a camera out, especially if they’re trying to avoid looking like too much of tourist. We say – forget about being embarrassed! It could be your only chance to get a photo of your subject, so dive in there and take the best shot you can while the opportunity is still there!

Photographing people

To learn how to shoot great portraits takes a long time, and we’re not going to bore you with all the details here! A quick summary of the best way to get a good, solid portrait is:

  • Have your aperture open wide, if you’re able to change your camera settings manually – it’ll give you a shorter depth of field and place your subject’s background out of focus, placing them in much sharper relief (it’ll also mean you need a faster shutter speed, so camera shake is less likely). If you’re using an automatic camera, switch it to Portrait mode for the same effect
  • Focus on the eyes. They’re the most important part of the face and the one bit you need to keep in focus. Filling the frame with the head or face of your subject can create a very intimate image.
  • Ask them! In some cultures, pointing a camera at people can look quite suspicious, and you’ll often find them happy to pose for you if you ask nicely. Kids are often great fun to work with – let them look down the viewfinder of your camera or at the pictures you’ve taken if you’re using digital. Occasionally, we agree that’s it’s possible to get a sneaky shot without your subject knowing, but be prepared to accept the consequences if they spot you and don’t appreciate the attention!

Photographing landscapes and architecture

A very different process from photographing people, since buildings and landscapes tend to move around less. This doesn’t make it easier, mind you.

  • When taking a shot of wide open spaces or tall buildings, keep your aperture stopped down as far as possible if you’re trying to get everything in focus – the smaller the aperture (a larger f-stop number) the greater the depth of field. The Landscape mode on automatics and compacts should offer the same result.
  • If taking pictures at night, use a tripod, especially if you’re serious about your photography. Because there’s less light, the camera will need to have its shutter open for longer. Around 1 second will be suitable for urban scenes, but 10 seconds and above still might not be enough for a shot where there are no light sources, like the Australian outback. The tripod won’t shake as much as your hand, and you’ll be able to take much sharper pictures.
  • Take the time to frame your composition – split your frame mentally into a three-by-three grid, and use this to place your subject somewhere other than smack in the middle. Look for simple lines of symmetry and perspective that can make a standard snapshot into something much more interesting. It takes some getting used to, but the rewards are well worth it!

Photo Editing for Beginners

Photo Editing for Beginners

Photo editing and processing is almost as old as photography itself. Since the birth of the photo, photographers have always strived to improve their photos by developing them at home, tinting, toning, and cropping their pictures to make a good photo great. In the days when all photography was shot on film, the option to edit and process photos was pretty much limited to professionals and enthusiasts with a lot of time and patience. These days however, the development of the digital camera has meant that you no longer need your own darkroom to improve your photos. Using a fairly standard PC and a some digital image editing software you’re pretty much ready to roll. There is undoubtedly a lot to learn if you want to get into creating the kind of creative artworks produced by the likes of Justin M Maller or Calvin Ho, but if you’re just looking to improve and correct your photos, digital editing is surprisingly quick to learn. It can be a little daunting if you’ve never done it before, but with a bit of practice it’ll soon become second nature.

A wealth of options

If you’ve already begun looking at your options, the first thing you’ll have noticed is that it seems that every man, woman, child and hamster with a programming degree seems to have has had a go at designing an image editing package. Well maybe not, but there are literally hundreds of packages on the market. Simply choosing a software package to start out with can be a task in itself. Looking at the options available, you’ll also notice a huge variation in prices, ranging from completely free (we like those) to packages costing more than a budget round the world flight.

Free image editing software

First up are the free software packages. Free stuff means more money to spent elsewhere, so for a lot of people this might be the preferred option. Below are the most commonly used free image editing packages:

Picasa

Picasa is a downloadable image organiser from Google which also features some basic photo editing options. There are a variety of quick fix options such as contrast and colour adjustments, as well as the ability to remove red eye and crop your images. Significantly, it also offers the ability to adjust the shadows and highlights of an image, a feature that a number of the cheaper paid packages lack. The best thing is it’s completely free, so have a look on Google for Picasa if you’re interested in a simple editor and organiser.

If you don’t find Picasa to your liking, there are plenty of other free options.

PhotoPlus

PhotoPlus for example, offers many of the creative tools you would usually expect to find on a piece of professional editing software such as layer effects, and clone, smudge and erase tools.

GIMP

Budding designers and photographers after a professional image editor might want to try out GIMP. Don’t worry, it isn’t like it sounds, you won’t have to wear a mask when you use it; GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program and was started in 1995 as a free alternative to Adobe Photoshop. As a result it features many of Photoshop’s advanced functions, including basic vector graphic support, layer transparency, layer masks and smart selection tools. It can even open Photoshop documents and features support for most Photoshop plug-ins. If having a plethora of options and tools at your disposal doesn’t frighten you then GIMP is probably the best choice for you. It might not be as quick to pick up as some of the other free packages, but I’d strongly recommend persisting with it as it is easily the most comprehensive and the best value for money of any of the image packages available.

Tip: If you’ve been using a computer for a few years and have already bought a digital camera, scanner or webcam at some stage, you might already own a basic digital imaging package. Double-check the box if you still have it, there might be some software on a disc in there that already does what you want.

Cost effective image editing software

If you don’t mind putting your hand in your pocket then you’ll open yourself to a lot more options because this is the category that most digital image editing software packages fall into. There are literally hundreds of alternatives ranging from the sublime to the practically useless. As with most things, as a rule of thumb you are best sticking to the well known ones. If you’re in doubt about what to buy, you could try a web search to see what others think of the software. It might also be worth comparing the features to those of the more comprehensive free programs such as GIMP, as very often the semi-professional packages do a lot less than some of the better free software.

Perhaps the most popular entry level editing package is Adobe Photoshop Elements, which is a consumer version of Adobe Photoshop, costing a fraction of the price. It features many cut down versions of Photoshop’s tools, but also offers quick fixes that its big brother doesn’t, such as quick red-eye removal and the ability to alter skin tones. It is aimed specifically at photographers so doesn’t feature many of the graphic design tools that Photoshop does, but if you are only interested in editing photos and are after something that’s easy to navigate with comprehensive online support and tutorials, then Photoshop Elements is a good option.

Another great package from the clever bods at Adobe is Adobe Lightroom. Lightroom is about twice the price of Photoshop Elements and is a nice bridge between it and the full version of Photoshop. Like Photoshop Elements, Lightroom does not feature any of the graphic design features of Photoshop, but it is an excellent tool for processing and managing your photos, from the point where they leave your camera to the time you output them to web or print. For budding amateur photographers who want to shoot and edit RAW photos Lightroom offers a lot more options than Elements and is an obvious choice. The workflows are so well honed to photo editing that many professional photographers with access to both Photoshop and Lightroom, favour the latter.

Tip: If you are interested in trying out the Adobe packages but aren’t sure which would better suit you, why not try downloading the 30 day trial of both. The trial is completely free and will give you a month to find out which works best for you.

If you are after a good alternative to the Adobe packages, you could look at Corel Paint Shop Pro. Formerly published by Jasc, Paint Shop Pro’s features measure up almost neck and neck with Photoshop Elements. It therefore contains all of the major functions of Photoshop, but without the sharp learning curve. Again, you can try out Paint Shop Pro for free for 30 days by downloading it from Corel’s website.

Other popular entry level packages include Microsoft Digital Image Suite and Ulead PhotoImpact. Both are good for basic editing but fall short of Elements, Lightroom and Paint Shop Pro for ease of use and sheer number of options.

Photo editing on a “money is no object” philosophy

The battle for expensive professional market was traditionally fought out betweenAbobe Photoshop and Macromedia Fireworks. Both programs are pretty similar in terms of features and functions, but work in a slightly different way.

Photoshop features file support for other Adobe programs such as Illustrator, Premiere and After Effects, making it ideal for graphic designers and video artists, as well photographers. It also comes packaged with Adobe ImageReady which is a great piece of kit for creating gif animations and producing web graphics.

Fireworks on the other hand gives you the option to do all the animation and photo functions within a single program, but lacks some of Photoshop’s ability to export files to the Adobe video software. It is however laid out similarly to Macromedia Flash and supports some use of vector graphics; so anyone with any experience of using Flash should feel right at home with it.

Adobe bought out Macromedia a few years ago, so Adobe Fireworks (as it is now called) now comes with the Adobe Creative Suite, meaning if you want to try Photoshop or Fireworks and have the money for Creative Suite, you no longer need to make the choice!

If you haven’t been editing very long, you probably wont be considering expensive packages with a sharp learning curve that will probably do far more than you could possibly need. For the more serious photographers amongst you who are considering forking out for full Photoshop though, I would again recommend doing a 30 day free trial first. I would also suggest a trial of Adobe Lightroom so you can compare the two packages as you may find it covers all of your photo editing needs, in a more user friendly way, for a fraction of the cost.

Software bought… where do I start?

Ok, so you’ve got yourself a piece of software and you’re ready to start editing. This can be very daunting at first, but don’t worry, there isn’t that much to learn to start making good photos great. Think of your editing software as a way of correcting or perfecting whatever you shot on the camera.

Most editing packages will allow you to apply a whole heap of “funky” filters that do all sorts of crazy things, from making your photo look like charcoal etchings to giving everything the kind of neon glow travellers might associate with a dodgy night out in Bangkok. When you start out, play with these. Get it out of your system. I’ve seen it before. You’ll inevitably waste away hours turning your dad green or making pictures of your mates look like they are submerged underwater. It’s kind of therapeutic in a vaguely masochistic way, but the novelty will soon wear off, and this can ultimately only be a good thing. This sort of experimentation will actually teach you a lot about the way the software works, but if you want to be respected as a photographer your photos should look like photos. For the most part you should aim to make your travel photos look as if they haven’t even been edited at all – this is something of an artform which you will perfect and develop over time. There really are a a lot of things you can do to your pictures without breaking this rule, adding a dodgy plastic wrap effect to the pyramids of Teotihuacan isn’t one of them.

Tips to Winter Photography

Winter Photography – Well, it is just a few days until Christmas and the Winter has really just hit Weymouth with a bitter chill…I feel so far away from my old home in the sun!

I was used to popping on a pair of shorts, practically any day of the year, and setting off for a day’s comfortable shooting with fantastic light.One thing that played heavily on my mind when we decided to leave Spain was what would I shoot now the sun has all but gone? What of winter photography? I had been used to 300 days a year sun, beach scenes, happy people walking along promenades or browsing the shops with a distinct “holiday” feel about them.

The cold is one thing that puts me off winter photography…my equipment (camera equipment please!) and hands get so cold it is hard to concentrate let alone be creative but I decided to brave the cold winds of the Jurassic Coast for a bit to see what I could find.

Something that struck me about the UK in winter is that there is a constant golden light when the sun is out. It is so low for much of the day that if you position yourself right, you can make the most of this wonderfully natural light.

But what if the rain is coming down and it really isn’t good outside for any sort of winter photography? Simple, shoot indoors!

The first image here is of the Fleet Air Museum in Somerset. Whenever I can, I try to incorporate my photography with a day out for the kids plus something interesting that we can all enjoy as a family.

I was really impressed how the Canon EOS 1D Mark III faired in such low, artificial light. These two images were taken hand held at 60th/sec using an aperture of F4. The ISO was set to 1600 and the noise is barely noticeable! They have also had very little in the way of post processing and I was particularly impressed with the depth of field from the Canon EF 24-70 at 24mm.

The next shot is near Lulworth Cove in Dorset…part of the historical Jurassic Coast of England. It was bl**dy freezing but this chunk of England is mighty impressive and I can see myself spending a lot of time here. A couple of Kubotas Image Tools Photoshop Actions used here.

Then we have a shot of a sensible man waiting for the pub to open (well, that’s how I saw it anyway). The whole of Dorset has some amazing architecture and cobbled streets dating back centuries and is exactly what I was looking forward to about returning to Blighty after so long away. We have had some great country pub lunches already…

This next shot is a crop from a shot I took as I crossed a bridge near a busy port. The boat was an incredibly bright yellow and the sun had popped out for a bit. The contrast really stood out so I fired a few off…I love digital photography!

This shot of Portland lighthouse took all of 5 seconds to take. We were on our way home when we noticed that the kids had fallen asleep in the car. To give them a break we drove to Portland, near Weymouth just to kill some time and as we got to the lighthouse the sun started to beam in all directions.

This part of the coast sticks right out and gets some serious wind creating impressive waves but it is also freezing! As soon as I got out of the car I had to catch my breath so I ran over, took a few pics as I darted about and then jumped back in the car. Took ages to warm up again…

Lastly, and to give some warm winter wishes to all who read All Things Photography, a boat with a happy greeting. I was shooting long exposures of 2-3 seconds or more and it took a few blurry shots for me to realise that the boat was slightly moving which stopped me from “freezing” the festive writing.

Must be the cold! I upped the ISO, opened the aperture and was able to get a sharp shot in the end.

I think winter photography has a lot to offer and if I get some nice thick socks and jumpers for Christmas (my entire wardrobe is practically summer based) I may brave the elements once again.

Some ideas for shooting over Christmas and through the winter:

  • If you can handle it, get up early to catch those early morning mists and frost on bright, sunny days
  • Try and capture the essence of winter and what it means to your part of the world…makes for better stock photography!
  • Capture the true expressions of family during the holiday period. Happy faces opening presents or pulling Christmas crackers…or singing carols, playing in the snow…whatever, but have your camera at the ready.
  • If shooting snow scenes, remember to either bracket your images or overexpose them anywhere between +1 and +3 stops. Your cameras meter will try to “damp down” the brightness of the snow so you need to compensate.
  • Keep your camera safe and warm, batteries don’t like the cold so take some spares. Remember that if you are off trekking in the snow or mountains for that elusive shot, tell someone where you are going and take a mobile phone just in case.
  • Me? I am staying in watching all the old films where it is nice and warm!

For good, reliable outdoor winter photography you need:

  • To wrap up warm – You soon lose interest if you are uncomfortable…wear 3 or 4 layers.
  • A good, sturdy tripod to combat the wind – I you don’t have a heavy, sturdy tripod, try hanging a carrier bag with rocks in it to the centre frame to keep it still in those chilly winds.
  • Get used to shooting high ISO’s and if you are shooting stock, get yourself a good noise reduction software program like Neat Image to deal with the noise in post production.
  • To just get out there amongst it all and enjoy what delights the winter has to offer. Beats watching TV ; )

Tips to Cleaning Camera Sensors

Learn To Look After Your Camera’s Sensor and Clean it Only When Necessary

The truth about cleaning camera sensors…maybe!

Disclaimer – The nature of this article does in no way mean that I condone the repetition of its contents. Nor do I suggest for one minute that anyone copies my actions, this is just to alleviate some of the unnecessary panic and stress when faced with a dirty sensor…its not that bad!

I am by no means an expert and the reason I am writing this short article for All Things Photography is not to make any recommendations or suggestions but simply to point out a few facts and mistakes to avoid.

So to start – The Dirty Sensor – How does it happen?

Many believe that leaving the camera switched on when changing lenses causes the electronic “charge” to act like a magnet and attract dust that way. I am not so sure about this as the mirror and shutter should be closed anyway therefore preventing any dust being attracted to the sensor during this time.

The most obvious reason is probably due to lack of care and attention. Taking the lens off in a clean, wind-free environment is your best bet to keeping things dust-free inside the camera.

Any dust that gets in (and it will) during lens changes will eventually find its way onto your sensor over time and the more you use your camera, maybe more so with longer exposures…who knows!

Above all else, if you have a dirty sensor and want it cleaned, take it to a pro. I was quoted about £60 Sterling by a Canon dealer for the task which is a lot cheaper than replacing the sensor!

So, what happened to me?

I recently shot a small but beautiful wedding at the Ritz Carlton here in Spain. Lovely clear blue skies, a lovely couple (both in white!) and tons of great shooting possibilities.

Cleaning Camera Sensors

Processing was a breeze with bright bold colours and no more spots of dust than normal. (I am of the thinking that I can cope with “healing out” or “cloning” a few noticeable spots away rather that being without the camera for weeks on end whilst it is being cleaned).

However, I had another wedding a few days later and I was shooting a preliminary “pre-wedding” meal near the beach and…HORROR! I hadn’t used the camera or changed lenses since the previous wedding and cannot for the life of me understand where all this dust had come from.

Update: Since writing this I now realise where the dust had come from. I had cleaned the sensor with a blower brush that had been loose in my bag. It had been in hot “sweaty” Spanish weather and constantly inflating/deflating due to being loose and therefore attracting dust inside. That dust had then become sticky due to the moisture which I then sprayed all over the sensor. Beware and look after your blowers!!!

Cleaning Camera Sensors

I looked at the blue sky on the preview screen and it looked like hundreds, no thousands of flies were attacking the coast of Spain! I used my backup camera but also shot a few with the dirty 5D at wide aperture to try and kill the dust.

After painfully processing these images, I decided to have a closer look at the sensor…what a mess! I had another big wedding coming up and needed this camera as my main and had no time to send it away or order a pro cleaning kit (impossible to get in Spain).

Now, my mistake was thinking it was just dust and I knew nothing about cleaning camera sensors. I bought a brand new blower brush which was blown and double checked for oil-free cleanliness before use and then I decided to give just one, gentle sweep across the sensor to try and pull some of it away…doh!

After running around the house swearing and beating up anything that moved (mainly toys and teddies), I came to the conclusion that the camera sensor was dead and I would need to replace it. I thought “what the hell”!All I managed to do was smear the greasy specks right across the sensor making it look like I had just baked a cake on it!

I then decided to use a swab but in my haste, used the wrong solution and just made things worse…by this point I was a gibbering wreck and I couldn’t help but laugh…not!

By now I just didn’t care, so I stuck my finger in, wrapped in a lens cleaning tissue with a few drops of solution on it, and just (still gently) wiped away. I changed the tissue every few seconds until I had got through a whole packet of 25.

Lastly I used a brand new lint free lens cloth and gave it a polish and about 2 hours later…bingo! I studied the sensor under a bright light and it looked almost new (note that…almost new) and I took some test shots.

I aimed at our white wall and used bounced flash with a setting of F9 and 50th/sec and took some shots.

Upon studying the results in Photoshop I concluded that it was no worse than when I first got the camera…just a few specks that I can live with until the wedding season is over and I can send it away for a professional clean!

Now I ran around taking back all the bad language and healing all the toys I had previously beaten up whilst giving a huge sigh of relief.

The moral and purpose of this article on cleaning camera sensors is this…

  • If you have a dirty sensor that isn’t too bad and doesn’t really show up in your photos, live with it and don’t panic.
  • If it is very dirty and you have the time, send it away to be professionally cleaned.
  • If you want to clean it yourself, get the right equipment and follow strict guidelines which you can find all over the internet (I may add my own one day).
  • Lastly, don’t worry about touching the sensor itself, it is covered by a sealed, thin, low pass, glass filter which can also be replaced before you need to worry about the actual sensor.

You will read all sorts of horror stories on the net about cleaning camera sensors…do not be afraid, they are not that bad, just be careful!