Tag Archives: Vietnam

Shoot Themes When You Travel

Balinese women balancing eggs. Bali Indonesia

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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You might also like:
Eat Lots of Colors!
Keep Your Camera in Motion
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Eat Lots of Colors

food photography travel photo

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

 

Keep Your Camera in Motion

Girls on bikes, Hoi An Vietnam.

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!

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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:
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

Playing with Monochrome Picture Mode

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

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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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:
Don’t Put Away Your Camera Away After Sunset
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
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11 Ways to Build a Better Photo

 

Don’t Put Your Camera Away After Sunset

Night photography tips: water reflections.

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

 

 

Making Eyecandy

A limited color palette can work well in a photo.

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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Is RTW right for you?

Peekaboo, Ubud, Bali. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

Sometimes when I completely fall in love with a place, I want to stay indefinitely.

Standing in the Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam, my senses are overwhelmed by the colors.  My camera is on overdrive. I am in heaven.

But I spend exactly one day in Bac Ha, leave the North of Vietnam, fly back to Hanoi then Bangkok, bringing back some images and the intention of going back.

Black Hmong tribeswoman at Bac Ha. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

I’ve only been to Luang Prabang a total of five days. My first time in Bali, I spent five days there. First time in Myanmar, seven days. The Rajasthan in India, a week. But each time, I was able to bring back some wonderful images and a sense of the place. I didn’t have to stay indefinitely.

I know people who quit their jobs and became travelers full time. One of the most famous of these is Jodi, also known as Legalnomads. Another is Matt, known to everyone as NomadicMatt. They both quit corporate type jobs to do RTWs, or round-the-world trips. There are a lot of full-time RTW travelers: on Twitter alone, @solotraveler, @BKKMichael, and even an entire family, @GotPassport, who have sold everything they owned and relocated to Chiang Mai, Thailand just over three weeks ago.

Sometimes, when I completely fall in love with a place, which happened in Burma last month, I wish for a moment I too could just make like Gaugin and run back to the place I was from the place I am.

But is RTW the right answer for everyone? Does short travel make you less of a traveler? I’ve thought about these questions a lot lately. Here are some thoughts.

1. Short travel is OK if you are already an expat.

I’ve lived in Thailand and other countries. I haven’t been in what most people would consider “home,” really, since I was sixteen years old. Wherever I am at present is “home” to me. So I am a full-time expat. What I love about being an expat in Bangkok is that I am able to use all the conveniences I would have back home, and (seriously) there is a direct flight to five continents from this city. So when I have the time, I can fly somewhere with my camera and notebook, and then fly back home. In 2007, for instance, my busiest year thus far, I flew 47 different times to 17 different places and was back on Monday for my full time job.

Faceless portrait, Luang Prabang. Photo by Aloha Lavina

2. You have a job you love.

The people I know who quit their job to travel did not really enjoy what they did as much as they enjoyed travel. Shamelessly, I can talk about my profession for a whole day and never tire. I teach high school English and design curriculum, and I love it. I love the possibility that is in each life of each child I teach; I love the light that happens in their eyes when they understand something, when they learn. And I love that at the end of the school year, I am able to look back and appreciate that my hard work has made someone love learning.

I thought about quitting teaching to engage in my other job, freelance commercial photographer and journalist. But in all these years of being busy both Monday to Friday with school and Saturdays and evenings with photography and writing, I honestly cannot say I would be happy without either. So I am both.

Arm akimbo in Rajasthan. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

3. Your travel needs you to lug heavy equipment around.

I travel so I can create images. The lightest equipment I take somewhere includes a DSLR, at least two lenses, four camera batteries, a storage viewer which can hold up to 160 GB of photos, a notebook (paper based tool I can carry in my pocket to record snatches of thought).

Girl with offering, Bali. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

I also budget my reading when I travel, because when it’s too dark to take photos, I usually don’t ‘go out’ in the conventional sense, so I read. On a recent eight-day trip to Bali, I read the three books I brought in five days, and I had to buy Eat Pray Love and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest for the three days left plus the plane ride.

And, sometimes I have to carry a tripod and a laptop.

If I had to lug this equipment around on my back for a whole year on an RTW, I think one of a few things would happen:

3a. I will run out of storage space for new photos. On an average day on a photo trip, from pre-sunrise to sundown, I take around 24 GB of photos. Do the math—even if I delete the mediocre ones nightly, I would still end up with at least some 12 GB of photos a day. That makes 160 GB last for an average of 13.33 days, nowhere close to a year. Of course, I could bring more than one storage device, thereby sentencing myself to a lifetime of back problems. (All this equipment on my back every day weighs 16 kilograms which I carry while chasing images.) 3b. I will spend lots of money on books. 3c. All of the above.

4. Budgets are easier to handle.

I generally like nicer hotels. And because I often travel more than 200 kilometers a day from the sunrise location to the sunset, I have to hire a car. When traveling, a nice room and a reliable car often are my two biggest expenses.

5. Every day is full of action.

Tom Swick of World Hum wrote that traveling is “creative hanging around.” For me, that doesn’t mean sitting. As a rule, I am constantly in motion when I travel. On my feet at a location, I can explore ways to make better images than if I sit somewhere and wait for a shot to walk by.

Of course, I also do hang around. I have to make friends before I make photos—that’s another of my rules. So a lot of time is spent socializing with the

Peekaboo, Ubud, Bali. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

locals, eating with them, visiting their families, and a lot of time is spent working with the camera. The rest of the time is slow eating and sipping good coffee while writing down my thoughts. Days and days of this, then I go home and process both the photos and my thoughts.

I like being able to live episodically when I travel. It demands that I pay attention to the present, every single minute of every single day.

And it works for me. How about you? Is RTW right for you?

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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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