Tag Archives: travel photographer

storm approaching batanes copyright Aloha Lavina

10 Practical Ways to Improve Visual Problem Solving

When you are on assignment, often even with extensive research, there are variables you cannot prepare for. Challenges you find on assignment include:

  • Light conditions
  • Having to search for vantage points that work
  • People are always moving around
  • Weather

Also even if you studiously pore over maps of the place you will be photographing, you still have the challenge of composing based on what the layout of the area really looks like when you encounter it with the light, weather, people, etc when you get there. You still have to search for vantage points that work for the story you are shooting.

To be a successful travel photographer, you have to become a successful visual problem solver. A visual problem solver takes the existing conditions of where she is shooting, and finds ways to arrange those conditions into a harmonious image.

Like many artistic skills, visual problem solving is actually made up of a complex subset of skills. Here are 10 practical ways to practice your visual problem solving.

 Ways to practice visual problem solving

1. One lens or focal length.

Making images with one focal length is a limitation, but it is a limitation that allows you to free up your creative problem solving skill of composing with a constraint. Constraints like simply using a 50mm for an entire story is something that can help ‘force’ you to compose in creative ways. You have to zoom with your feet with one focal length. You have to move around. What this does is simply get you into the habits that allow for creative visual interpretations of what’s in front of you. If you have a zoom lens on, like your kit lens, don’t worry. Simply tape the lens to the desired focal length you want to work with for the week, and don’t change it!

2. Tell a story using a theme.

Themes can do wonders for your creativity because it is another constraint that you can impose on your image making that will challenge you to discover ways of solving a visual problem. Interpreting the theme you choose can hone your observation skills, composition skills, and all the other discrete skills demanded of a creative shooter. For example, you could shoot the theme ‘blue’ today! There are many ways to interpret this theme. It could be the color blue, the many hues of blue, or it could be the metaphorical blue, interpreted by images that show abandonment, sorrow, etc.

3. Crop in camera.

If you tell yourself that every frame must contain only what’s necessary to tell the story, you are giving yourself an opportunity to become a great visual problem solver.

fallen birch in pond copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

These days with humungous digital RAW files, it’s easy to just snap away and crop your compositions later. But what this does is make for a lazy visual problem solver. If you ever want to be a photographer on assignment, you want to get the compositions right in camera; often your editor will expect the files as they are when it’s time to submit a story. Practicing this composition in-camera skill will enhance your visual problem solving skill and improve your photos dramatically. You might even find that you don’t need to spend hours in post-processing because your straight-from-camera pictures are already breathtaking as they are. Imagine that: less time on the computer, more time to shoot!

4. Look at things in fresh ways.

Take a page from poetry. Wallace Stevens has a great poem called “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” where he explores how to see in 13 very short stanzas. Looking at things in fresh ways means to move not just your feet, but your mind’s eye—what can you see if you look at a subject in a different way? Given a theme, what would be a list of ways you could look at it? Changing up your point of view not just physically but also mentally can change the way you interpret the subject.

5. Using design principles.

Line, form, color, balance—these are always great themes to shoot. Spending some time composing using graphic design themes can inject freshness into your imagery. These are also elements you can find in every setting, so you will never run out of things to photograph.

6. Photograph the light.

There is no more beautiful way to interpret a place than by recording the way the light falls on it. A tree is a tree is a tree, but a tree in great light is a beautiful photo.

morning mist at Tioga Pass copyright Aloha Lavina.

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

 7. Vary your exposure.

Changing your exposure subjectively is a great way to interpret scenes and give them mood and atmosphere. You can try high-key images, or images that are overexposed to give them a bright, cheerful mood. Or you can underexpose to change the mood and give it a bit of mystery. You can spend a lot of time photographing one scene, and vary the exposures with which you capture it. Then you would have a lot of images to choose from, to tell the story. Making subjective exposures gives you a way to bring emotion into your images.

8. Vary technique.

There are some themes commonly used in travel photography that would work to help you vary the techniques you use to capture a place. Panning, light painting, and slow shutter work are some of the techniques you can use to creatively interpret your vision while on assignment. Practicing these techniques wherever you go can give you a variety of images that might give you more insight into a place.

9. Use color in various ways.

Color is everywhere, so this is a great way to explore a new place. But making color work for your image is a skill that can help you move beyond just making eye candy, into making expressive images.

Seeing how colors complement each other, or how it affects the mood of an image, is a great skill and can help you in visual problem solving. For instance, a spot of blue in an otherwise all-yellow-and-green landscape might make a better photo.

storm approaching batanes copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

You can also influence color in your images by changing up your white balance settings. (You can change white balance in RAW, so if you shoot in RAW the white balance setting is quite irrelevant. But if you need a visual feedback system for the ‘feeling’ color produces in an image, try shooting in a different white balance just to be able to see the effect on your image on the LCD screen.)

10. Use contrast to add interest to an image.

I’ve discussed some techniques for using contrast in images over at LightStalking. Spotting contrast is another way to add interest to your images. Practicing seeing contrast—in content, color, values, size, lines, texture—hones your observation skills and gives you a whole new way of seeing.

With some patience and perseverance, you can train yourself to be an effective visual problem solver. Practice will make these skills part of your natural workflow, so start on them today!

Which of these 10 have you tried? What have you done to produce an image you loved?

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article on Canon Photo You by Aloha Lavina

So You Want to be a Travel Photographer…What’s in it for you?

This post was written for Ying Huang in Scotland, who emailed me about the essence of travel photography. Thanks Ying for inspiring this post and the last one!

Although travel photography is long, lonely, hard work, there are a lot of benefits.

You Get Great Experiences and Learn a Lot

I traveled a lot as a kid, missing a lot of school. But for this, I have to thank my parents, who were global nomads while they raised me, for the experiences I’ve had first hand could not have happened to me in a school room. I’ve come face to face with a beached whale, played magnetic Scrabble in a boat pitched violently by a storm, learned how to sleep on a bus, a boat, a Toyota Land Cruiser…the list of cool stuff I learned from traveling is long. The point is, without being able to travel, the learning I gained from wandering around the globe would not have happened.

Travel is a masterful teacher. It’s helped me to be persistent when things don’t work out. To respect cultures different from my own. It’s helped me to see people without first focusing on differences because as a traveler I’ve had to look for similarities first, to find a friend. This openness has helped me as a travel photographer.

Sometimes you get a story that stretches your worldview. A recent memorable one is when I went to Bhutan to shoot and write a story for Canon PhotoYou Magazine (Check out the Summer 2011 issue!). In Bhutan I met anatomically detailed giant penises painted on walls as charms to ward off evil spirits. Then I learned that the paintings were related to a local hero, so I sought those stories about him…and found he was a prophet and saint whose most repeated stories challenged the hypocrisy of local religion and all involved sleeping around…even with his own mother. Oops, did I really want that much information? I had to process these stories as part of my experience in Bhutan, and it was a challenge to separate myth from fact and get to a story that would work, especially as my editor cautioned me against being ‘too mystical’. In the end, I realized the story was the mix of fact and myth, because that was Bhutan.

article on Canon Photo You by Aloha Lavina

Learning about a country firsthand is a great benefit to a travel photog.

Travel will make a photographer uncomfortable at times. But remember that this discomfort is a sign of learning, so be open to it, and it will reward you with insight.

You Meet Lots of Cool People

I am fortunate to count so many people all over the world as ‘friends,’ not in a Facebook sense, but in the sense that once, we shared a day or a moment as human beings. I’ve enjoyed noodles with the entire roster of residents in an old folks home in Burma’s heartland. Another time, in another village, I spent a night watching a soccer game with the whole village on the only television in that place. In Da Lat, Vietnam, I met a man who was the first person in his village to graduate high school. From his last email, I learned recently that he’s started a cooperative for the tribes in Da Lat to regulate the production and sale of their crafts—something that will help them both find appreciative markets and preserve their traditional arts. In Cambodia, I met a shoe shine boy whose dream was to be able to afford going to school…I can’t list all the inspiring people I’ve met while traveling in this blog post, but in every place, there have been people who have again and again restored my faith in humans.

Burmese dancer copyright Aloha Lavina.

I've met lots of cool people as a travel photog. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

You Learn to Live Simply and Resourcefully

As a traveling photographer, you learn how to make do. It makes you appreciate the small things, like the banana a local matriarch gives you for breakfast while you wait for the sun to rise and the fishermen to come in on a lonely stretch of volcanic beach in Indonesia.

You also know that you have to travel light, so you become more resourceful. While in Burma during Thingyan, the water festival, I was on a long sampan in a waterway, flanked by locals on the banks ready to douse the boat tip to stern with a fire hose. But my camera bag was dry, wrapped in a large plastic garbage bag—something I now carry with me everywhere, along with some rubber bands—a low cost, light waterproofing solution to wet locations. In Borneo last April, the plastic bag became a raincoat, keeping dry both my camera and my clothes while I scouted for orangutans along the Panabangan River.

Being a travel photographer means being able to bring home images that will give someone insight into places they may not ever visit. It gives you a chance to teach an audience, to tell stories with your images that many people will enjoy. It also means taking home some intangibles, like insights and friendships, and new learning that make you better appreciate your world.

Few people make a fortune with travel photography, but the experiences you gain as a travel photographer are priceless.

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So You Want to be a Travel Photographer…Can You Handle It?
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groom in traditional dress for a Balinese wedding copyright Aloha Lavina

So You Want to be a Travel Photographer! Can you handle it?

This post was written for Ying Huang in Scotland, who emailed me about the essence of travel photography. Thanks Ying for inspiring this post and the next one! Today’s post will be on the challenges of travel photography, and the next post will be on the benefits.

The decision to hire yourself out as a travel photographer has its challenges. Most people might think that travel photography is a thoroughly glamorous job–you jet around the world, you get to hang out creatively so you can capture a story, then you post the story to an editor and then off you go, ready for a new place, a new experience.

Honestly, it’s not that glamorous, and it’s long, lonely, hard work. But if you are organized, persistent and flexible, and you like yourself, you could make it as a travel photographer.

The Value of Organization

Packing your equipment for travel, you have to have done your homework, already.

Most travel stories contain a lot of detail to capture a place, and if you are going to a place you’ve never been, you have to do research beforehand to find out what you can photograph, set the itinerary so you have lots of opportunities to capture the highlights that make the story unique, and pack your camera bag accordingly.

groom in traditional dress for a Balinese wedding copyright Aloha Lavina

Is travel photography always glamorous? Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Little details like bringing a power adaptor, finding out the voltage of the country, laws on equipment you can bring in and out of the country are just three of the many little things that you have to know before you go. If you don’t do your homework before you travel, you might meet seemingly minor catastrophes that could kill your story—you could have equipment confiscated, have limited opportunities for shots that work because you brought the “wrong” lens–or worse, have to scramble to charge your batteries because you’re not prepared with proper adaptors. Thorough preparation is one of the challenges of being a travel photographer.

Another part of being an organized travel photographer is knowing how to juggle your assignments. If you’re lucky, you will be hired regularly by a magazine or publisher, and have a steady stream of assignments. But most travel photographers have to be freelance, posting stories, pitching stories, and waiting to get paid after the story is published. Waiting for income to pay bills just doesn’t work with the way bills work in our world, so you have to take on multiple assignments to get a steady income if you’re a freelancer. To do this successfully, you have to create a system that helps you keep track of stories you’ve pitched (tried to sell) to editors, stories that you’ve sold, and stories you’ve actually been paid for. I actually enrolled in a course on being a travel photographer over at MatadorU, an online school for travel photographers and writers, so I could get a firm grasp on how to juggle assignments with the guidance of an editor. Having a system for keeping track is essential, especially if you’re trying to be prolific enough to pay bills with your photography.

The Value of Persistence

With the popularity of digital photography, it’s very easy for publications to buy or get for free photos from non-professional photographers, and a lot of hobbyists who have other means of income make their photos available through stock companies like Getty, where a publication might pay less to get their photos compared to having to commission a photographer to fly somewhere and live in rented accommodations to get specific shots of a place. So rejection of pitches is something a travel photographer has to deal with, and the persistent travel photographer will pitch a story to death to get it bought and published. Aside from organization, persistence is a quality that you need to survive as a travel photographer.

Patience and persistence is rewarded. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Patience and persistence is rewarded in travel photography. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Persistence also helps you with the challenge of shooting the story itself. The only thing you can control in a travel assignment is yourself and whether your equipment is prepared. You can’t control the weather, the light, the environment. It might rain, the sunset could be horrible the day you climbed the hill to the lighthouse. The market could be empty when you go there to shoot portraits of people at work. Accepting that these are circumstances beyond your control, and having a backup plan to come back, go somewhere else, and keep shooting a story will help you to turn what might be a bad shooting day to one you can save.

The Value of Flexibility

Flexibility will get you through an assignment. Things won’t work out your way, but you have to get those images. If you’ve done thorough research, you will know where to go instead of the empty marketplace. If you did your homework, you will be able to shoot and post the story.

It’s essential for a travel photographer to shoot in many different shooting conditions and situations. Being able to shoot in a variety of situations helps you to get a story that’s different from what could also be accomplished by those six or sixteen other people your editor could have hired. As a travel photographer, you have to work hard to be technically proficient that you can be creative. Creativity comes after you know the fundamentals of how certain shots work–so if you have a large repertoire of what you can do with your camera, you have an advantage over someone else your editor could hire.

The Value of Liking Yourself

Travel photography means long hours by yourself. I’ve produced photos while traveling with other people, even on tour when I’ve spent hours on a bus and a measly 15 minutes at every tourist site, and my best work has been when I specifically travel to a place, alone, just to make images. There are a few crucial reasons for this.

Your schedule is your own. When you travel alone, you are able to get up as early as it requires to photograph in good light. You don’t have to wait for others to wake up, finish breakfast, and go. You’re able to zip through from one place to another depending on the shooting opportunities. And you can stay as long as you want in a place as long as you have enough memory card space. The advantages of traveling alone for photography are many; but it’s lonely. There’s no one to talk to at the end of the day, to process your experiences, except your travel journal. You really have to like spending time by yourself if you are a travel photographer.

If you like yourself, are flexible and persistent, and organized, you can meet the challenges of being a travel photographer. What other qualities do you think a travel photographer should have to succeed?

UP NEXT: the benefits of being a travel photographer, right here on Imagine That!

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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.

You might also like:
Shoot Themes When You Travel
Keep Your Camera in Motion
Don’t Put Your Camera Away after Sunset
A Changing Story

 

 

early morning light in Batanes copyright Aloha Lavina.

Three Simple Tips for Sharper Handheld Photography

I was on a mountaintop last week, trying to take these shots without a tripod. The strong winds in the Batanes archipelago, in the Northernmost tip of the Philippine Islands, just knock tripods down, so I didn’t have much of a choice.

In situations where you have to take shots handheld, there are a few techniques you can practice to make your shots as sharp as possible.

1. Watch how you breathe.

Breathing can cause slight camera shake. But you can apply a rhythm in the way you breathe while you’re shooting that helps you keep your cam steady. It’s always best to finish exhaling before pressing the shutter. Practicing this breathing technique can seem distracting at first, but mastering it will help you get those handheld shots sharper.

batanes storm coming copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

2. Watch how you hold your camera.

Combined with your new breathing technique, you can stabilize your camera using your body. Digital Photography School has an excellent illustrated roundup about various positions you can adopt to hold your camera steady with your whole body, instead of just your hands. The bottom line is, use your body to steady the camera, and the closer you hold the camera to the core of your body, the more stable it becomes for you to take that sharp shot.

early morning light in Batanes copyright Aloha Lavina.

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

3. Watch how your eyes move.

This is a tip I learned from golf. Even after you have picked a focal point and locked on it, you need to keep your eyes on that focal point while you are taking the shot. Moving your eyes to a new focal point on the viewfinder means your hands will move.  Keeping your eyes locked on target will make sure your shot is sharp.

What are your techniques for handheld photography?

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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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Balinese women balancing eggs. Bali Indonesia

Shoot Themes When You Travel

Spice up your travel photography tip # 5: Use themes to shoot your travel stories!

Travel photography is about telling stories about places through your photos. Usually, a photographer travels somewhere and tells the story of the place they are visiting using some common themes, like landscapes, portraits, documentary, night, and wildlife. The variety of images that you can shoot to show what a place is like is as wide as the range of human activity in any country. But how can you avoid shooting the same scene, over and over, only in a different place?

The answer to this question may rest not in the exotic and most far away place you can afford and access. It may not rest in the type of equipment you own and can lug around when you travel. Maybe the answer rests in how you approach the image making.

The way you think about what you are shooting could be the most important set of decisions you could make to spice up your travel photos.

Going out on different days intending to shoot different themes is a way I’ve spiced up my travel photography. While I am open to opportunity and do not let the day’s theme limit what I capture, I try to keep the theme in mind as I walk about, and attempt to tell the story through the theme, throughout the day.

In Vietnam recently, I spent a day photographing how Vietnamese transport things from one place to another.

Vietnam, Hoi An, travel photographer

Vietnam theme: ways to transport things. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Vietnam Hoi An motorbike travel photographer

Vietnam theme: ways to transport things. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

In Burma, I looked at how the Burmese work.

Burma worker statues Mandalay

Burma theme: work. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Burma temple cleaning worker Myanmar

Burma theme: work. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Burma worker river boat old car

Burma theme: work. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

And in Bali, it was a natural choice to look for the Balinese sense of balance.

Balinese women balancing eggs. Bali Indonesia

Bali theme: a perfect sense of balance. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Panning technique for travel images, travel photographer, Bali, motion

Bali theme: a perfect sense of balance. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Looking for images that follow a theme can be a creative way to look at cultures from a novel perspective. With a bit of forethought, you can spice up your travel photography and maybe even understand a little more about the place and people you’re visiting.

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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.

You might also like:
Eat Lots of Colors!
Keep Your Camera in Motion
Playing with Monochrome Picture Mode
Don’t Put Away Your Camera Away After Sunset
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Let the Light Inspire You

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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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.

You might also like:
Keep Your Camera in Motion
Playing with Monochrome Picture Mode
Don’t Put Away Your Camera Away After Sunset
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
Let the Light Inspire You
The Beginner’s Guide to Photography’s Holy Trinity
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo

 

Girls on bikes, Hoi An Vietnam.

Keep Your Camera in Motion

Spice up your travel photography tip # 3: Learn how to capture motion

If you’re looking to spice up your travel photography, you can keep your camera moving!

I kid you not. Most of us who are new to travel photography or photography might think that the only way to get a good photo is to keep absolutely still when taking it. Yes, this is a general rule. Holding the camera steady when taking a photo is one of the essential skills a developing photographer needs to master. There are even breathing techniques we use to make sure our images come out sharp.

It’s also a general rule that we have to keep our shutter speed inversely proportional to the focal length of our lens to make a sharp photo. That means if your focal length is 50mm, you have to make sure your shutter speed is 1/50s or faster.

These two rules are good to know and keep in mind. But sometimes, you have to break the rules to be creative and have some fun. Here’s how breaking these two rules in photography can help you capture motion  and spice up your travel photos.

Girls on bikes, Hoi An Vietnam.

ISO 125, 1/25s @ 22mm. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Slowing down shutter speed to a value lower than the inverse of your focal length and moving the camera from one side to another can result in images that show motion. Let’s break it down into details of what we have to do to make these kinds of shots.

First, set the camera to Shutter Priority. This is S Mode on a Nikon and Tv mode on a Canon. Then, set ISO to the lowest possible. I used ISO 200 on the Nikon and ISO 100 on the Canon.

Try to shoot motion in the times of day when there is less light, like early morning or late afternoon. Using these techniques when there is a lot of light results in overly overexposed images, which will not work.

 

Bali market, Indonesia

ISO 200, 1/15s @ 24mm. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

The shutter speed that can allow us to keep sharp a walking person is at about 1/15s. If your focal length is 24mm, like what I was using for the photo of the man in the Balinese market, this shutter speed is much slower than what I require to take a sharp photo. But what I did to make the man sharp against the moving-like-a-blur market was to focus on him when he was walking initially outside of my frame, and then following him while keeping the shutter release depressed. I pressed the shutter release just as the man walked into the frame I had decided beforehand. This technique blurs the background and everything else but keeps the man sharp, making this photo that captures motion in the bustling market.

This technique of moving the camera from one side to the other is called panning. Panning can also be used for faster objects, such as the people on bikes in Hoi An, Vietnam.

Hoi An Vietnam bicycle banana seller

ISO 100, 1/30s @ 17mm. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Capturing motion is simple and fun, and the resulting images spice up your travel photography. Why not try it today?

Up next: Spice up your travel photography by eating lots of colors, 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.

You might also like:
Playing with Monochrome Picture Mode
Don’t Put Away Your Camera Away After Sunset
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
Let the Light Inspire You
The Beginner’s Guide to Photography’s Holy Trinity
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo

Two women walk down an alley in Hoi An, Vietnam.

Playing with Monochrome Picture Mode

Spice up your travel photography tip # 2: Play with Monochrome Picture Mode

Sometimes, I get too serious.

I mean, walking around in a place I haven’t been, enthralled by all the new things I see, I sometimes forget that the best thing to do with my camera is play. That’s right, play: that state of experimental joy that feels good in itself because it’s relaxed and holds no pressure.

Walking around in Hoi An in the middle of the day, it is hot. The shadows are sharp, the light is harsh. The common response is, put the camera away, have a superb Vietnamese coffee, and practice portraits by people watching, take a nap in the air-conditioned hotel room until the light softens and turns a warmer color in the late afternoon.

Or, keep walking with the camera on Monochrome Picture Mode and make some monochrome images.

I decided to play with this feature of the 7D and learned some new things.

Shoot in RAW + JPG

Ducks on a motorbike, Hoi An Vietnam.

Ducks on a motorbike at the market, Hoi An Vietnam. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Most dSLRs now allow you to choose both RAW and JPG as the output files when you shoot. RAW isn’t really a picture file per se; it’s a composite of all the information the camera gets when you take a photo. So if you choose Monochrome Picture Mode and shoot in RAW, you’re still taking all the good stuff from the scene you captured even though the image shows up monochromatic in your LCD display. Shooting the extra JPG file gives you a ‘true’ monochrome image, processed in camera.

Play with Exposure Compensation

Shooting JPGs will allow you to hone your skills in shooting black and whites. The fun part of shooting black and white is getting to use and learn about exposure compensation. This is the ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ calibration line you see on the top display of the camera. Plus on a Canon means you compensate by ‘adding’ more light or overexpose, and minus on a Canon means you compensate by ‘subtracting’ light or underexposing. What do these pluses and minuses do? They actually allow you to make images darker (minus) or brighter (plus). (And you can use exposure compensation even when you shoot in color.)

Make Subjective Exposures

 

Two women walk down an alley in Hoi An, Vietnam.

One of my faves from Hoi An is from playtime with Monochrome Pic Mode. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Black and whites need pronounced blacks and glowing whites, so you can use exposure compensation to make what I call a subjective exposure—an image that looks like what I have in mind. This means you can underexpose or overexpose to taste, and play with the amount of light you let in the camera when you capture the image.

Playing with the Monochrome Picture Mode on your camera while traveling can help you have fun and learn something new about controlling how you make images.

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

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Don’t Put Away Your Camera Away After Sunset
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
Let the Shadows Speak
All You Need is a Window
Let the Light Inspire You
The Beginner’s Guide to Photography’s Holy Trinity
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo

 

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!

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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.

You might also like:
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
Let the Shadows Speak
All You Need is a Window
Let the Light Inspire You
The Beginner’s Guide to Photography’s Holy Trinity
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo

 

 

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Change the Way You See

This will be the first in a series of posts about how changing the ways we see as photographers can change the stories in our photos.

The approach on each photo assignment is different. Even travel photo assignments differ even though they are on the same general topic. Shooting dance on four separate occasions, I learned about how I had to change the way I looked at the subject, so I could tell the story of each performance from a different perspective.

The eyes of a tourist

 

I love the way the dancer kicks the bottom of the dress to create movement. Burma, 2010. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

When I shot this set in Burma, the assignment was to show Burmese dance as a traveler would see it: in a staged performance, from a distance. I had little background in the dance forms and the stories behind each one. That limited knowledge produced shots from a spectator’s point of view. Luckily I had brought along a long lens, suitable for isolating the dancers and capturing uncluttered portraits showing off the costume and motion against a simple background.

The eyes of a storyteller

Dance acrobatics are important parts of a dance story. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2010.

I love Hanuman, the character in the Ramayana epic. When I shot this assignment at the Chalermkrung National Theatre in Bangkok, it was a behind the scenes story of the dancers who made Hanuman come alive every night at a national theatre in Thailand. I had to shoot the story as I saw it unfold, embracing its unpredictability, paying attention to detail. So I did a little abstraction and a little action. Framing the story with images of detail helped to give the necessary background for the actual dance shots, and the action shots gave me the necessary storyline. Hanuman is a singularly amazing character, but he’s actually several guys in a specially made papier mache mask, whose acrobatics on stage are remarkably demanding.

Symbol in dance can make for some great surprises. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2010.

The eyes of surprise

No one knew that rain was going to come from the umbrella. The dancer at Patravadi Theatre in Bangkok in a free-form modern dance gave us a few surprises. First, he wore an expressionless mask which contrasted with the bright costume and the even brighter umbrella. His movements were quick and energetic. And when he sprung the confetti on us, streaming from the umbrella, it was the biggest surprise of all. Less than a minute of white confetti catching the dim light in the dinner theatre, plus not being able to move because there was simply no time, gave me a limited window for a shot. I put the camera on burst mode and tried to anticipate the next twirl.

The challenges for photo assignments make for fantastic learning. Whether your goal is to get a travel story or capture how an event makes you feel, it helps to look at each assignment with different eyes. Changing the way you see can change the story.

1/200s @ f/5.0, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

A Changing Story

A primer on travel photography themes, for my friend Mary, who just got her first dSLR

Travel photography is like a timelapse video, except the subject is always changing. Arriving at a new place, your attention is on overload—look at that! The temptation is to snap everything in sight, gorging the memory card with content. It’s fun to be trigger happy on a trip, but it can also be overwhelming. Even if your goal is to make images for the family slideshow, there are some themes that will help you organize your travel photography so you can more fully tell the story of a trip—a story tipsy with content and composed with beautiful imagery.

Reaching a balance between being open to the unexpected and staying true to your themes can produce a travel photo collection that includes a full range of imagery, a complete account of a changing story.

Night photography

I have a friend who puts away his camera as soon as the sun is sinking. But most cameras made after 2007 have really good ‘vision,’ meaning their sensors are able to ‘see’ in the dark and record clean enough images that can spice up your travel photo montage. So don’t put away your camera just yet when you see the sun setting. You might just get some amazing shots.

1/2000 @ f/11, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

 

30s @ f/22, ISO 125. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

Portraits

Photos of people are some of the most interesting and memorable images of a place. It may be a little intimidating, but try taking photos of strangers, and when you do, try to tell their story. It helps to include a detail or two that contextualize the portrait: What are they doing? Who are they with? The charm of a portrait is in its details.

1/200s @ f/5.0, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

 

1/250s @ f/5.6, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

 

1/200s @ f/4.5, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

Fauna and flora

Animals and flowers are great story bits. I was in Ayuddhya and visited the elephant camp there. As soon as I entered the camp, I spotted a young elephant jogging around the compound, and then caught him when he was tired, plopping down and bathing himself in early morning sun.

1/800s @ f/5.6, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

At another place in tropical Bangkok, there were these lilies all in a row, graceful and delicate in a shallow depth of field at a wide-open aperture.

1/160s @ f/3.2, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

Documentary

Images that record events give a depth to travel photography. The story of work, for example, tells a lot about a place. What people value and how they interact with their environment are often revealed when we learn about how they work and live.

1/500s @ f/8.0, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

When we make travel photos, we also make our memories of that place tangible, a story captured that will withstand the passing of time.

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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.

You might also like:
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
Let the Shadows Speak
All You Need is a Window
Let the Light Inspire You
The Beginner’s Guide to Photography’s Holy Trinity
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo

70mm @ f/5.0, ISO 200, 1/160s

Solitude

70mm @ f/5.0, ISO 200, 1/160s

Some days you feel like the bare apple trees after harvest, waving their arms to the sky, the wind snaking around their ankles like a lover or a beggar. Solitude can be lonely or it can just be alone. It can be a memory, sepia and semi-toned, tempered with discontent, or brimming with anticipation.

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Su Mon in the City
– a Closeup of Life in Yangon
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A limited color palette can work well in a photo.

Making Eyecandy

Like everything in photography, shooting in color is a decision. That sounds weird, right? After all, the world is in Technicolor and we can’t really turn all the color “off.”

Color has emotional content. We use it a lot in the ways we express our feelings. “Red as a beet” for both embarrassment and anger. “Blue” when we’re sad. “Green with envy.” Our perceptions of color reach far beyond just what color something is. We can add impact to a photo when we use color effectively.

Green is a soothing color.

Farmer and beautiful ricefield, Vietnam.

Some colors are cool—the blue-green part of the color spectrum. These colors are usually soothing. Photos that are mostly blue or green, such as this photo of lush forest around a beach in Krabi, Thailand, exude a sense of calm. The second photo, of a farmer walking across a rice field in Vietnam, is mostly green, and the blue shirt of the farmer gives the color palette in the photo unity. The yellow, although it should intrude on the cool color palette, instead serves to punctuate the blue and green and it also helps give the photo a three dimensional feeling, acting as a gradient running from foreground to background.

A limited color palette can work well in a photo.

The other end of the spectrum—the red-yellow part, are the warm colors. Reds, yellows, oranges are fiery, aggressive colors and we associate them with like feelings. This photo of a swami in Rajasthan, India, is full of red and yellow. The walls, the clothing of the swami, even the ground have reds in them. I think this image works because all the elements in it contain similar hues. This harmony then allows the content of the image to pop out—the humor in the pose of the swami, and the self-deprecating smile on his face, playing with the photographer and the situation.

Morning light at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.

A sense of harmony in this shot from Siem Reap comes from the narrow color palette. The browns and yellows give the photo unity, and since everything is golden from the early morning light, even the green leaves in the photo are tinged with yellow.

But we can’t always photograph still objects, such as Angkor Wat and fallen leaves. A lot of travel photography is of people. One of the most used “tricks” of shooting travel portraits is to find a great background, wait until someone interesting walks past it, and shoot. Usually this strategy produces some gems. But after finding this wonderfully colorful wall in Saigon, Vietnam, I waited and sure enough, a girl in the traditional ao dai dress walks by. Click. Now I look at this photo and think, would it work better as a black and white photo? The clash between the purple tinge on the girl’s dress and the red, yellow and green of the wall might be distracting and does not add to the photo.

Girl in traditional dress in Saigon, Vietnam.

Another photo I think might work better in black and white is this one of a boy surrounded by his family at a market in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and they are all wearing striped shirts. The stripes on their shirts frames him, and I originally shot this in color but again wonder if the color does not really add to the photo at all.

A photo that might work better in black and white.

Sometimes, when the most compelling elements in a photo are lines or shapes, it works better as a black and white image.

Making a color image is a matter of decisions the photographer makes. Since the goal of capturing an image is to create order out of chaos, to somehow arrange the elements of a scene into a harmonious design, we can’t ignore the fact that there are ways to use color in achieving an image.

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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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Shooting the Most Beautiful Woman in the Universe
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Sunrise and mist, Bhutan.

Beginner’s Guide to Light

At some point in their journey, people with cameras begin to photograph light instead of “look what I saw.” Light is the main ingredient in the mix of elements that make an image. Content, composition, technique will all pale if the light isn’t “right.” But is there a “right” light? Here are some common lighting situations that could help you create compelling shots. Practice looking for them, and you will see your images increase their wow factor.

Back light

Dancer with rim light, Bali.

Back light is when the light source is behind the subject. This means that it is directly in front of the camera, with the subject in between. The photo of the dancer sitting was lit with two windows behind him, lighting him like a halo around his head and body. This line of light around a subject is called “rim light,” as it creates a rim of light outlining the subject. To shoot this kind of shot, I had to use exposure compensation, overexposing to making sure I had a balance between the bright light I wanted to capture, and the man’s features.

Backlit spools of thread at a weaver's shop in Burma.

In cases of really bright light behind the subject, like in this shot of colorful spools of thread in by a window, the patterns created by the light and shadow make for an interesting picture.

Front light

When the light is right in front of the subject, it is easier photograph, but if the light is directly in front of the subject, it may result in a ‘flat’ photo. ‘Flat’ lighting is light that evenly spreads on the subject. I try to avoid this because it makes a photo look two-dimensional; it is the shadows in a photo that create a three-dimensional effect.

Dancers putting on makeup, Bali.

In the photo of the dancers putting on makeup, their light source is directly in front of their faces. I could have taken the shot with the light behind me, but I broke away from that and instead focused on the mirror one of the dancers was holding. My thinking was, the composition was more interesting with the dancers echoing each other’s postures. But most importantly, the light from the window was reflected on their faces into the mirror, and the mirror’s image was thus well lit for my camera to capture.

Top light

Light from above of course is quite common. When you travel, mostly the sun is your light source, and most of the day the sun is right above your subjects. So it’s important to know how the light from above will affect your images, and what you can do to minimize the shadows that the sun from above will invariably create in your subjects.

Early mornings and late afternoons are great because the sunlight is more orange; the angle of the light is also more from the side, especially at sunrise and sunset. But also in the hours right after sunrise and the hours just before sunset, the light is not as harsh as in midday.

Man asleep in his ox cart at midday, Burma.

Having said that, though, one of my favorite shots from Burma was taken at around 11 am. This man was sleeping in his cart while his oxen were grazing. The shadows were harsh, but it worked because the content of the photo made for a good contrast. To get this shot, I had to close my aperture to f8 and used exposure compensation to get details in the sky and the immediate subjects in front of me.

When there is harsh light, like in midday, I look for subjects who are under a sort of shelter. When there is a covering above the subject, the harsh light does not create equally harsh shadows on their faces.

Girl in pink hat, Burma.

Shan woman at a temple, Burma.

Both the photos of the woman in the turban and the little girl in the pink hat were made around midday, but both were under a kind of shelter–the temple roof for the turbaned woman and her pink hat for the little girl.

Side light

This is my all-time favorite kind of light. Side light is light coming from the left or right of the subject. It was used by the masters of painting–Rembrandt used side light in his paintings to give the picture a three dimensional effect. When the light falls on one side of the subject, the other side is in shadow. The shadows are what give the picture a 3D look.

Monk at old wooden temple, Burma.

The monk walking past old wooden doors shows how shadow and light can create the contours that make the subject seem three-dimensional.

Sunrise and mist, Bhutan.

In the early morning shot of a misty scene in Bhutan, the side lighting created by the sunrise gives us a sense of the overlapping hills and the thickness of the mist.

Like every skill, seeing the light–its direction and quality–takes practice. But with some basic knowledge of lighting situations, any person with a camera can practice the right skill and do what photographers do: capture the light, and make it look fantastic.

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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.

You might also like:
The Beginner’s Guide to Photography’s Holy Trinity
The Man at the Window
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo
10 Online Resources for Photography Enthusiasts
How to Stay Creative

Hmong girls look longingly at balloons for sale in Sapa, Vietnam. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

Re-Vision

Being published may not be everybody’s dream, but I’ve read somewhere in David DuChemin’s excellent book “Visionmongers: Making a Life and Living in Photography” that almost everyone who picks up a camera for the first time and enjoys using it invariably, perhaps fleetingly, see their name as a byline for a published photograph. Whether you are a beginner who is venturing into the steep learning curve for a photography newbie or someone who’s been shooting for a while, there is a way for you to explore your love for photography in greater depth, and to share your images  with an audience other than your family and friends.

At some point in your journey into image making, you might arrive at the proverbial “crossroad” where you have to pause and think of where you want to head next. Should you attend that next workshop? Is going pro right for you? Should you quit your high-power job and become a pet photographer like Grace Chon? Or do you prefer to perfect your technique and creative skills so you can take gorgeous images of your travels for friends and family to ooh and ahh over?

Many DSLR owners do not think beyond using their cameras to record their special days, but if you have that buzz of excitement every time you go out with your camera, you probably will experience your re-vision: a moment of rediscovery that will bring insight into the kind of photographer you want to be.

In my own journey I’ve been through a few revisions of my goals. In the 1980s my only goal was mastering exposure with a manual film camera. Then in the 1990s it was getting used to digital format, with the freedom of changing ISO in the middle of the same shooting session. In the mid-2000s, I found myself doing a 180-degree turn from people-less architecture and lonely landscapes into full-blown portraiture mania. And now, just six years after my first digital camera, I am working some 35-40 hours a week as a freelance commercial and fashion photographer.

As the decade comes to a close, here I am again, reinventing myself by registering at the amazing MatadorU travel photographer’s course, and my first assignment is: what type of travel photographer do you want to be? It’s certainly a loaded question, and less than a 100 words makes this new vision a challenge.

Hmong girls look longingly at balloons for sale in Sapa, Vietnam. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

Then this morning, I woke up at 1.55 am on the western coast of Koh Chang in the South of Thailand. No one was awake at that hour; the beach was asleep. A stubborn wind rustled the palm leaves, and an almost full moon glowed, its faint light tracing a beautiful line across the water.

The answer to the question came to me. I am excited by light, and the way it behaves and makes every thing beautiful. Light is what excites me and pushes me to become a better photographer, whether in my commercial or editorial fashion work, my personal projects, or travel. So the kind of travel photographer I want to be is “someone who tells stories using light to take the audience to the three-dimensional moment captured in an image.”

What about you? What kind of photographer do you want to be? Tell us in your comments!

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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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