Tag Archives: aperture

food photography travel photo

Eat Lots of Colors

Spice up your travel photography tip # 4: Eat a lot of colors!

Some cultures, notably the Japanese, say that to eat healthy, you have to eat a lot of colors. I often remember this advice when I travel, not because I’m a foodie so much, but because food images can help spice up travel photography.

When I travel, I like to eat a lot of colors. Having colors on the table helps you to add some spice to your travel photos. (And you just might be eating healthy, too.)

Here are a couple of things I’ve learned about food photography while traveling.

Open up—wide apertures are better.


Use a wide aperture to give your photo a beautiful blur. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

A shallow depth of field as a result of a wide-open aperture helps you keep food looking yummy in a photo. Compare this colorful scene I took with an iPhone with the one below it taken with a dSLR and a 50mm lens at f/1.4. First of all, the iPhone photo is colorful, but the details in all the food makes it look more like a snapshot. Because you want your travel photos to matter as artistic as well as documentary expressions, you want to play a little with what you can control. Playing with a wide  aperture helps to produce attractive blur in the images, and the blur helps to remove the clutter of background and brings some artistry into the images.

Lots of colors, but not too artistic.


food photography travel photo

Blur is beautiful. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Eat beside a window.

You could take out a flash unit to light your food, but that may not go well with the other restaurant patrons or the owner. So it helps to sit by a window so you can at least light your food and bring out the colors.

Restaurant light can help make a shot appetizing.

salad photo food photography

Rocket salad in warm restaurant lighting. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

This rocket salad is too green, I know. But in the orange light of the restaurant where I had it, it looked nice. I helped accentuate the orange light by using the Cloudy white balance setting on the Nikon I was using. Using warm colors to photograph food helps get more yellow-orange-red in the image. I find that using Auto white balance produces more of a blue tinge in the food with the indoor lighting that most restaurants use, and blue food is something humans just don’t find appetizing.

So there you have it, some simple tips to add some food images to your travel photos. Next time you go somewhere, pay attention to what you order; ask what’s in the dish, and spice up your travel photography.

Up next: Spice up your travel photography by shooting themes, right here on Imagine That!

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Night photography tips: water reflections.

Don’t Put Your Camera Away After Sunset

Spice up your travel photography tip # 1: Don’t Put Your Camera Away after Sunset

Photography is about light, so what should we do when the sun goes down and the light is scarce?

Travel photography is challenging in that the lighting is always unpredictable. We have to work with light that’s available, and when the sun goes down and there is very little light, we might figure to put the camera away.

But with some patience, a steady hand, and a tripod, we can make photos at night that can spice up our travel photography.

Handheld shots


Handheld shot after sunrise, travel photography tip

A handheld shot after sunrise, during the blue hour. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

The shot above was taken just after sunset, in the ‘blue hour,’ the nickname for the time when the sky is turning blue after the sun disappears over the horizon. I had my camera on Aperture priority, so I dialed up to ISO 800, chose the widest aperture I could get, f/2.8, and held my breath as I took the shot at 1/90s.

This next shot was also handheld, but I increased the ISO to 1250, since I wanted more sharpness and needed an aperture of f/5.6.

Lanterns in Hoi An, Vietnam. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Lanterns in Hoi An, Vietnam. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

The effect of increasing ISO in these shots is that there appears more noise in the photo, that disturbing grain that shows up, especially in the values between midtones and shadows. If you can live with some noise, you can still use a high ISO for handheld shots, or you can clean up the grain with a noise reducing software. For these shots, I processed the noise as best I could using the Luminance slider in Lightroom. This tends to soften the edges in the photo, so I balance it by adding a little more sharpness using the Sharpness slider.

Using a Tripod

The best part about using a tripod on night shots are the light trails that vehicles make as the slow shutter speed works. Here in the shot below, a motorbike in Da Nang, Vietnam creates a curvy red light trail at an intersection. I shot this at f/8, ISO 160 at 30 seconds. Tripods allow you to lower your ISO and effectively your shutter speed, so there is less noise in the shot.

Light trails from a motorbike. Night photography tips.

A motorbike turns, from its tell-tale light trail. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

If you want light trails to be red in your shot, stand at the side of the road where vehicles are moving away from you; that way, you catch their tail lights. If you stand at the side where vehicles are coming toward you, you could have these white light trails, which are less exciting than the red ones.

How to take night photos. Tips on travel photography.

White light trails are from vehicles moving toward the photog. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Another great thing about having a tripod for your night shots is the ability to take those wonderful reflections of city lights on water. In Da Nang, one of the suspension bridges has lights with changing color. I waited for the cyan to go on, and made an exposure at f/8, ISO 160, at 15 seconds.

Night photography tips: water reflections.

The bridge at Da Nang, Vietnam. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Keeping your camera with you after sunset is a great way to spice up your travel photography. With some simple decisions about ISO and the use of a tripod, you can make exciting shots that would not be possible during the day.

Up next: Spice up your travel photography using your camera’s Monochrome Picture Mode, right here on Imagine That!

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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Dancers frozen in motion using high ISO, Bangkok.

The Beginner’s Guide to Photography’s Holy Trinity

With all the different dSLRs available at reasonable prices now, and the marketing money companies spend to push these cameras, it’s not difficult to think that the camera you buy can create brilliant photos.

Cameras are very smart these days. The Program mode of a camera has so much technology in its favor that it could actually decide all the settings, and all you have to do is press the shutter release.

But technology aside, photography is a creative art. And most of the fun of doing something creative is well, creating. Someone once said that the two most important things in a work of art are technique and impact. Without impact, perfect technique can translate to boring.

Understanding how a camera takes a picture depends on understanding the three most important settings: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO–the holy trinity of photography. Knowing how to use these settings to execute an artistic decision is a skill that will create photos with impact.

I am not a technical learner, so when I take photographs, I don’t really think about the settings before I think about the impact of the image. Impact comes first, and then I decide what to do to achieve it. This is what I call making a “subjective exposure.” A subjective exposure is when I use the settings of the camera to create an effect in the image.

Shutter Speed

Market motion in Vietnam.

When I spotted the two people in the market, I made an immediate decision to show how busy the market was using these two people isolated in the frame. To do this, I slowed down the shutter speed, to create motion blur in the two people. This slowing down of the shutter speed suggests haste, and that is the message in the image. What I did here was to make my shutter speed a lot slower than what I needed to take the photo at 90mm. At that focal length, I needed a shutter speed of at least 1/90s to take a sharp photo, but I slowed the shutter speed down to 1/30s.

Panning with bicycles in Can Tho, Vietnam.

Another way of showing motion is with a technique called panning. Panning can be done in low light, like in the early morning before the sun is really bright, or later in the day when there is less light. To pan, set the camera to Shutter Priority (or Tv), and adjust the shutter speed to around 1/30s for a moving bicycle, or about 1/15s for a walking person. Use a wide focal length, like 17mm for this shot. Focus on the moving subject from one side of the frame, and keeping the shutter button pressed halfway, follow the subject until they get to the middle or end of the frame, then press the shutter release to take the photo. What this action does is to make the subject you focused on sharp while blurring the background.


An aperture decision keeps everything relatively sharp, Nepal.

In this scene, I spotted the girl standing still by the blue wall, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the boy running. I wanted both of them in the photo, but I had to choose to focus on the girl and keep the running boy as sharp as I could. So I focused on the girl, making the wall and her sharp. I also knew that because I had a lot of light available (it was late morning), I could use a small aperture, f/9 or so, and still have a good exposure. So I adjusted the aperture and waited for the boy to run into the frame, and then got the shot.

Greasy boy isolated using wide aperture, Laos.

For this other portrait, I had a small boy who had painted his face with grease. I was talking to his father about the fishing nets he was mending when he ran close by and stopped. He would go away, and then come back again, and when he came back one time, I had my camera ready. I wanted to blur the background to give more emphasis on his face, so I took the photo at a large aperture, f/4, blurring the background and giving the boy’s face more prominence.


Dancer getting ready, Bangkok.

On assignment for CNNGo, I spent a day with classical dancers from rehearsal to that night’s show. My challenge was the low lighting in the dressing rooms and the almost dark lighting of the stage. For the dressing room, I was lucky to have a good fast lens, a 50mm f/1.4. But the only light I had was from the mirror lights, so I pumped up the ISO to 1250, and was able to take a sharp photo at f/2.8 of this  dancer with his costume being sewn on. (For an explanation of why the costumes have to be sewn on the dancers, read the article here.)

Dancers frozen in motion using high ISO, Bangkok.

Later, for the performance, ISO was again my friend. For the performance, I was only allowed to photograph from a row without any other audience, so I needed to use a long lens, the 70-200mm f/2.8. In the near dark of the theatre, I had to bump ISO all the way to something like 64,000 or something really dizzying like that. I got a high enough shutter speed to freeze the motion of the dancers while they did these cartwheels, even with the very low light and the long focal length.

Difficult lighting

Girls in dappled light, Bali.

In situations where there is difficult lighting, like deep shadows and uneven light, decisions about shutter speed, aperture and ISO can help create a good shot.

For the girls under the thatched roof, the dappled light created drama, but I had to be very quick before they moved. So I kept the aperture wide, at f/2.8, and the ISO at 200. The shallow depth of field added to the mystery of the scene.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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