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Taking It Easy: Sure Fire Tips For Every Kind Of Travel Photography

August 27th, 2012 No Comments

You are in the idyllic location for photography. An exotic paradise, a place you have dreamed of for years. Now you are there and you are wondering, what can I shoot, and more importantly, what are the best settings to capture the feel of the place.

There are a number of themes to travel photography; among them are the people, the architecture, the wildlife and the landscape, be it rural or urban. In this article I will try to give you an idea of the best settings for your camera to create great travel images.


Perhaps more than anything else, the locals capture the flavor of a destination. A fisherman landing his catch, local women in a market, there are a multitude of images to be shot. The worst thing you can do is blatantly stick a camera in someone’s face and start shooting. I find the best policy is a smile and to point to the camera, 90% of people will be happy for you to take the shot. So what are you looking for? Well, you are trying to show the person in their environment, but you don’t want that environment to be intrusive. Look at using a relatively wide aperture, around f2.8-f5.6 on a normal zoom. Shooting at a focal length of between 24-70mm means that you can compose your subject somewhere in one third of the frame and use the other two thirds to show the destination. Aperture priority is the best mode for people photography. Because you need to work quickly, you can set your aperture and let the camera do the rest. In the example below, I have used a wide aperture of f2.8 to throw the background and foreground, out of focus to concentrate on the natural beauty of this Indian street woman.



Take a look at a city’s buildings are you will know more or less what country you are in. Capturing good architectural travel photos can be difficult. If you are in a well-travelled destination, the chances are there will be tourists and locals alike in front of your intended subject. Here your most important piece of equipment is an alarm clock. Get up early, as the sun rises it will create soft shadows and add definition to the building and of course, you will more than likely be alone. If possible, scout your location. It may be that the sun does not fall in the right place at that time of day and you will need to rethink your shoot. Try to get back from the building, and again use a standard zoom lens. If you are too close, you will have to point the camera up to capture the whole building, this creates converging parallels. These can be fine if you intend them, but in general, for architectural shots you want your parallels parallel. Try to use a small aperture, to capture as much detail in front and behind the building, f8 to f16 is ideal. This however can introduce other problems, as you are up early, the light levels may be quite low and as such your shutter speed may be a little to slow to get good images. There are two solutions to this conundrum; the first is to increase your ISO setting (film speed). This will drop the image quality but hopefully not significantly. The second option is to maintain the shutter speed but put your camera on a tripod. This will give you the sharpest possible image. The two best modes for architectural photography are aperture priority and manual. As your subject does not move, you have time to work on the settings



Taking pictures of local wildlife presents its own set of problems. Firstly by its very nature, it won’t want to be to close to you and secondly it will probably be moving fast. Here you will need a long lens, a good budget, telephoto lens would be in the range of 70-300mm, however, generally these lenses will not be fast i.e. they will not have a wide maximum aperture. Because of this, and because you may require a fast shutter speed to freeze the action, its possible you will have to increase the ISO to get good images. Mostly, you will find yourself using the 300mm end of your lens and the best mode will be shutter priority. This will allow you to define the shutter speed depending on the subject. If your wildlife is relatively slow moving, aim for a shutter speed of around 1/250th of a second. If it is moving quickly and you want to freeze the action, look for 1/1000th of a second or even faster. Panning the camera with the motion of the animal will allow you to stop the motion and use a slower shutter speed. It also has the advantage of blurring the background, giving extra definition to your subject.

Most DSLR cameras have what’s called a continuous shooting mode. In this mode, if you keep your finger on the shutter it will keep taking photographs. As most wildlife is unpredictable, it can be very useful if you have your camera set to this.



As mentioned earlier, landscapes can be rural, or urban. An urban landscape will concentrate more the general environment rather than a specific building. A rural landscape will capture the natural beauty of the location. The best time to shoot landscapes are the hours just after sunrise and just before and after sunset. This is commonly known as the “Golden Hour” due to the rich, soft, golden light the sun produces. In general, in landscape photography, you will use aperture priority and a small aperture of around f8 to f16 to capture the greatest depth of field. A wide angle lens of around 14-24mm will allow you to capture those grand sweeping vista’s, whilst the use of a telephoto lens will allow you to pick off the intricate details in your scene. A tripod is also a very useful tool, allowing you to keep the aperture small whilst keeping the ISO down for the very best quality. Focus manually if you are confident, this allows you to control exactly which point of your landscape you want to be in perfect focus.



These are just a few suggestions for travel photography. In reality there are an infinite number of possible photos out there. Let loose with your imagination and try capture the real atmosphere of your destination.


Conclusion: Shoot From the Hip Photography Part 9

August 5th, 2012 No Comments

I have not explained one technique that can be employed to ‘shoot from the hip’.  That is to keep your camera trained at the general area of interest and use a focal length sufficiently low so as to cover a wide area, thereby guaranteeing capture of the subject, and then literally shoot from the hip and shoot at sight, secure that you will capture the subject somewhere within the frame.    I have not detailed this method because I do not recommend it: it brings about loss of the film’s frame area, and consequent graininess when the subject is cropped; in this digital camera age, it still means loss of resolution by way of ‘pixellation’.  One of the manthras of photography is, given the focal length you are working with, to get in tight with the subject or to eliminate extraneous and useless content, i.e. you are to compose in-frame in real-time so that your photographs will require the least amount of cropping, and this is a rule I like and respect because it is a very sensible one, and I think that it holds good even for the kind of photography covered in this article. 

Digital cameras, be they conventional or DSLR, make the skill-art of Instantaneous Shoot-from-the-Hip Photography much easier to learn and practice.  Excluding Hasselblad and Rolleiflex models which provided an image-viewer at the top surface of the camera, SLRs and other cameras required you to look through the viewfinder (unless you bought and attached a special accessory), and that meant holding the camera up to your face.  Not exactly subtle;  that meant anyone and everyone could tell exactly what you were up to!  Even city birds would be (and usually are) disturbed at seeing you raise and point a lens at them.  

But not anymore. Now, using LCD panels, you can compose a photograph holding the camera in a casual and offhand way (but do not compromise on a steady grip and end up with camera shake; that said, high-end DSLRs or their lenses now contain stabilizers!).  You can compose a photograph and get it off while pretending to be looking somewhere else;  a huge advantage in capturing natural candids and an even bigger plus in terms of snapping off a shot at precisely the right instant and not wasting an all-too-precious half-second (getting your camera in position).  This is because you can monitor any situation with your camera actually near your hip, allowing you to be more relaxed and natural, and can literally ‘shoot from the hip’. 

With the benefit of digital cameras, LCD panels, autofocus, stabilizers, and such, you can leverage the information presented in this article to become a photographic ‘Shoot from the Hip’ top-gun.  Ready, aim, fire!


Ready, Prepare, Anticipate: Shoot from the Hip Photography Part 8

August 5th, 2012 No Comments

Notice that readiness, preparedness, and anticipation are like a dependent chain.  When ‘it all comes together’ you can get a natural, candid image of real-life that can seem like a professionally set-up picture.

Some years ago I was lodging in the guest-house at Tsinghua University in Beijing.  One evening I took a stroll outside the rear boundary of the campus and came upon a little street carnival being enjoyed by, apparently, the lower-middle class locals.  From a distance, I saw a tea vendor pouring tea from the most enormous teapot I had ever seen; it made for a good photograph. How, though, to get close enough for a candid without his becoming aware of me, clearly a non-local? 

In my experience, persons can often be flattered or surprised when they see a camera pointed at them and their expression either becomes self-conscious and artificial, or they may suddenly wear a foolish grin, or stare straight into the camera with a surprised expression.  I wanted to catch a natural photograph of this man pouring tea for a customer.  I had no friend with me whom I could ask to buy some tea after I set myself up.  I got to the desired distance from the vendor but stayed within the milling crowd on the footpath and surreptitiously readied my camera and flash so that all I would have to do would be to point and shoot.  I kept myself concealed in the throng until I saw someone go up to the vendor to buy some tea. 

There was no guesswork in this shot, I knew what the vendor would do sooner or later, all I had to do was wait.  At the right moment, I stepped away from the cluster of persons and into the street, raised my camera and composed the shot in a moment and snapped the shutter.  Neither the vendor nor his assistants knew a photographer had been watching him until the flash went off.  Because I was fully ready, prepared, and anticipating the shot and had the time to do so, I got just about the right camera angle, shooting distance, and composition (note the white edges of this uncropped image) that one could want.

When you encounter a situation in which you know that a particular scene is going to be played out, you’re lucky right there!  Don’t rush it.  Smoothly and quietly prepare yourself to the full Ð choose your EV, shooting distance, focal length, angle; whatever, while realizing and respecting the time limitations you are working with.  Above all; as for every instantaneous shoot-from-the-hip situation; do not lose yourself in the technicalities and end up missing the moment. 


Checklist: Shoot from the Hip Photography Part 7

August 5th, 2012 No Comments

On your own time, become one with your camera;  know how it operates, specially the shutter release delay.  Practice the exercise described earlier.  And become knowledgeable about how events may unfold for the subjects you are interested in, i.e. be able to predict the unfolding of the subject’s actions or events.

If you sense or feel that a shooting opportunity will be at hand:

1.  Keep your camera on and ensure it has plenty of juice (unless you’re using an all-mechanical camera).  And make certain that it is not set for automatic, preprogrammed shut-off after a certain number of minutes, otherwise you may think you have a ready camera when, in fact, it is off.

2.  Keep your flash on.  If it is a separate attachment, ensure that the batteries are not weak.

3.  Ensure that your magnetic card (or film roll) has ample space.  You will probably not find enough time to erase images from the card or to reload film.

4.  As your camera hangs off your neck, keep your right hand on or around it in your usual grip position so that you can bring it into position immediately.

5.  Keep the mode on one or another autoexposure setting; you have enough things to worry about.  If you have the time, you can adjust it later.

6.  Given the kind of time interval you are working with, take care of as much of the following as you can: Distance from subject or event, focus, and focal length: these three factors are interdependent.  Given the focal length of your lens, get to the optimal distance, which is as near as possible as the subject will allow without being affected or disturbed so as to maximize frame coverage area, and try to pre-focus.  If your camera gives consistently good results on autofocus in extremely rapid point-and-shoot situations, use autofocus.

7.  If the subject could lose its naturalness or change behaviour entirely if it notices you with a camera, conceal yourself or at least conceal your intentions.  If you conceal yourself, it should be in such a way that you have a clear sight to the subject within a step or two.  Be unobtrusive.  And be on your toes.

8.  Begin the process of anticipation, be it milliseconds or minutes, and ‘prep’ yourself to ‘point and shoot’ or, using the LCD panel, literally ‘shoot from the hip’ at the precise instant;  and when you think that special fleeting moment is nearly there, fire!

Being ready is a matter of having a camera habit, good judgement, and, perhaps, good luck too.  Being prepared is a matter of realizing that a shooting opportunity may be afoot and maximizing your chances of capturing it, should it arise, by arranging your equipment to fit an opportunity.  Possessing synchronization is a combination of acquiring a technical skill and subject-area knowledge.  And anticipation is an all-senses-alert waiting game; it is a continuum lasting from a few seconds to several hours (for big-game photographers sitting up in bomas) and it ends each time the shutter is released.


Anticipation: Shoot from the Hip Photography Part 6

August 5th, 2012 1 Comment

When shooting weddings, etc. some of the best shooting opportunities come after the ceremonies are over.  If you remain unobtrusive and stay in the background and use your anticipation, you can say goodbye to those same ol’ same ol’ photos of persons either looking self-conscious or giving you big bright smiles with a wave, and instead catch a lot of unaffected, natural candids.  During the post-ceremony festivities of an engagement, I noticed two little girls having an involved and animated tete-a-tete.  Watching them from the side of my eye and staying in cover of some guests, I hovered around, keeping my distance so as not to make them self-conscious and destroy the spontaneity.  As I watched them exchange their girlish confidences I anticipated a very pretty candid, and did what I had to do to capture the right moment.

Estimating the distance, I pre-focussed my zoom lens, set the flash on the narrowest aperture (aperture-control through flash) for that distance as I was estimating the distance and needed to maximize depth-of-field, and telephoto’ed up on my 70-210 mm zoom lens, not wanting to get too close to the girls but wanting a tight composition.  Anticipating the moment when I observed one little girl (the one on the right) lean in, giving me a profile, and the other wearing an excited grin, giving me a three-fourths, I took a step or two toward the girls, raised my SLR;  just as one of the little girls looked right at me with an impish grin while her little friend was solemnly whispering something (amusing? mischievous?), and that was the moment; I took one touch on the focus and zoom ring, and click!  All this took less time than it did for you to read about it!  I got a pretty and tightly-composed portrait (notice the white borders around this full, uncropped image) maximizing the film’s coverage area.  With one little girl full-face, the other one in profile; one little girl thrilled; the other serious, my anticipation paid off.

What this means is that when you’re anticipating a great shot, not only are you ready and prepared, you do have some time to set yourself up for the perfect picture.  These moments are fleeting so you may not have time to change a lens but you do have time to zoom it;  perhaps ‘pre-zoom’ it to the desired estimated focal length.  Your anticipation also allows you to set just the right shutter-speed and aperture combo, or over/under the EV.  But, above all, when you have anticipated the perfect candid, well, that means anticipate the instant at a future point that it’s going to occur by carefully and unobtrusively tracking the play or movement or reactions of your subject, and . . . shoot!.


Synchronisation: Shoot from the Hip Photography Part 5

August 5th, 2012 1 Comment

I was aboard a ship docked in Madras and a few hours before departure time I learnt that a gypsy troupe was about to give a performance in the main hall.  Already on board and with no plans, I thought I would check it out and just as well because the performance turned out to be a photogenic one, full of colour and movement.  The 36 exposure roll in my camera was nearly finished; I had four or so frames left of which I used on or two during a song-and-dance routine, not knowing what was to come (else I would have started with a fresh roll!).  What came next was a strange setup of two or three men lying flat on the ground with fruit on their chests and a blindfolded gypsy in brilliant clothes and an urn-like thing balanced on his head, whirling and twirling and leaping with a pair of knives in one and the same hand, accompanied by other dancers, to music.  Soon he brought down the pair of knives on a man’s chest in a lightning quick move, splitting the fruit but leaving the man untouched.  Instinctively I shot, but the angle was wrong and my timing was off and the image (as expected) turned out to be no good.

Knowing the game now, I changed position: I sat a little distance from one of the supine men, the gypsy’s ‘prey’, trying to cover a sufficient area so as to capture the gypsy dancer when he did what I knew he would.  (I do not recall or know what flash setting I had chosen.  For technical reasons, it would have been smartest to have chosen the widest aperture that would give sufficient depth of field and consequent coverage for any slight mis-focus.)  Now there was no question of ‘anticipating’ anything, I knew what I was going to see in a minute or two.  The challenge was to synchronize the shot with the gypsy’s lunge and lightning-quick thrust.  When the gypsy, my ‘quarry’, came near his ‘prey’, I kept my viewfinder on and around the prey while tracking my quarry, finger on the shutter; when he moved away, I relaxed.  I wanted to freeze the split-moment after he chopped the fruit; that meant I should probably squeeze the shutter at the same instant that his knives made contact with the fruit on the man’s chest.  That’s what I tried to do with the very last frame of my roll.  As I then knew, the moment came very suddenly but, having set myself up and with finger on the trigger, I fired in conjunction with the gypsy’s lightning-quick thrust.

  (Can you believe me when I say that the gypsy’s knife thrusts were lightning-quick?  Does the photo offer any clues to verify or disprove my assertion?  Observe that a piece of banana has been frozen in mid-air by the flash, as is the piece falling off the man’s chest; but the man’s knives are a blur.)

This image, though certainly not ideal, is a good enough one, a nice talking point.  Furthermore, it is a natural one; for advertisements, magazine stories, etc. such photographs are posed or set up, i.e. a subject is hired to perform his routine or stunt and the pro photographer takes shot after shot (in trade lingo this is known as a ‘shoot’).  Notice my fellow passengers in the background which indicates that this split-second photo is authentic.  I would not have been able to capture this image or anything close to it if I had not covered the bases of readiness-preparedness-anticipation.  But even if had done that but had not acquired the skill of split-instant synchronization;  the opening of the shutter curtain / firing of the flash with a split-instant of a fast-paced event; I could not have frozen this image.  Synchronization requires split-instant foresight and being one with your camera, specially its shutter-release delay.

Read all the Parts – Shoot From the Hip Photography Master Class 


Split Second Foresight: Shoot from the Hip Photography Part 5

August 5th, 2012 No Comments

Instantaneous ‘Shoot from the Hip’ photography; which is not limited to persons and pets; natural events and city incidents lend themselves to this type of photography;  is the diametric opposite of portraits and interiors, as mentioned, and requires a different mental approach.  When you approach a portrait or still life, you give careful consideration to camera angles, aperture, lighting, focal length, filters, etc.  You use a tripod.  These are virtually no considerations at all in instantaneous shoot from the hip situations because you have only milliseconds to minutes to work with.  The common thread in almost all instantaneous shoot from the hip situations is split-second foresight with synchronization.  For four of the five photographic situations described earlier, had I clicked the shutter just milliseconds before or after I did, I would not have frozen the images presented here. 

Awareness and foresight of how a particular situation involving persons, animals or inanimate but moving objects (trains, wind-disturbed clothing, etc.) is going to unfold or pan out will let you foresee the precise split-second of interest and then synchronize the image-capture with blink-of-an-eye instant.  For this reason, if you’re interested in applying this kind of photography to a particular area or subject, you must learn or observe that subject’s behaviour so that you can foresee when it is going to do what.  For example, first-rate bird photographers are not just experts in photography; they are experts in bird behaviour.

You can roll off a large number of exposures on auto (done in the old days with an attachment to the camera body called a ‘motor drive’) but that is akin to using a machine gun in the hope of getting one good shot.  (Modelling shoots are done in ‘machine gun mode’.)  That is very much a hit-and-miss approach.  As opposed to a machine gunner, a sharpshooter usually fires only one shot; but he makes it count.  If you try to absorb the methods illustrated in this primer and try to practice and apply them, you can be a photographic sharpshooter.  Next, I describe a photographic situation in which, to paraphrase Vince Lombardi, foresight plus synchronization was not everything, it was the only thing.


Shutter release delay: Shoot from the Hip Photography Part 4

August 5th, 2012 1 Comment

Here is one practical application of my exhortation to make your camera an extension of your body.  Every camera’s shutter button (by way of the shutter release mechanism) activates the shutter curtain after some or another slight ‘shutter release delay’ that is measured in milliseconds.  (The finer and more expensive the camera, the briefer the shutter delay, and vice versa.) 

By practice and more practice, you will intuit your camera’s shutter-release delay and you will gradually learn to shoot some milliseconds in advance of the moment-to-be-frozen; if you deliberately set out to do so.  (All digital cameras use AutoFocus (AF) unless you go with manual focussing in the high-end DSLR models.  AF delay in high-end non-DSLRs can be as long as half a second and that is enough to eliminate an instantaneous opportunity.)  H

ad I not known how fast (slow) my Canon A-1 released the shutter, I would not have been able to take the photo of Rusty at the moment she was on her back, legs up.  As for the photo of the reared-up cat, my old snapshot digital camera has a looong shutter curtain delay.  I consciously ‘pulled the trigger’ a split-second earlier than I thought the subject cat would be in optimum position.  With trial and error and experience with one and the same camera, you will learn this skill.

That said, this difficult skill is, paradoxically, quite easy to acquire with a simple method, specially since the advent of digital cameras as you can monitor your synchronization (or lack thereof) immediately on a per-attempt basis.  Make sure that you use the same camera with which you’ll be doing your shooting from the hip.  Affix or hang a target on a wall and set your camera’s coverage with the target in the centre and about five feet of space on each side.  Have a friend gently toss tennis balls across the target.  You must not pan the camera to track the arcing ball; you are to snap a picture of it in flight as close to the target and as much in the centre of your frame as you can (assuming your friend’s toss is accurate).  You will almost surely find that your first few or several attempts are shot much too late.  After a little practice, you will consistently be able to shoot the balls when they’re near the middle of your frame.  Voila! you now know your camera’s shutter’s behaviour and are on the way to making it an extension of yourself.

Read all the Parts – Shoot From the Hip Photography Master Class 


Preparedness: Shoot from the Hip Photography Part 3

August 5th, 2012 No Comments

I set out to take some action photographs of an adopted cat playing with a toy, a dangling rubber ring.  Though, in this

Photo Courtesy K.S

case, I was setting out to take a particular type of photo for which I was ready, for one thing, it still required me to shoot at precisely the right split-second; cats bat their paws lightning-fast  (Flash, distinct and separate from shutter-speed, helps to ‘freeze’ motion; that is a topic for a separate discussion.)  No matter what, it was going to be an instantaneous shot.  However, as things panned out, had I not been prepared from the get-go, I would not have captured this image. 

I had fully anticipated that the cat would keep playing with the ring and I would have my choice of shooting angles, poses, and such; wrong!  First she batted at the ring a couple of times, quickly snatched it, got it in her mouth, and, bored with the toy, moved away after playing with it for, I reckon, less than twenty seconds, and all I got were three or four images.  What’s more, the picture you’re seeing is the very first one; and I only got that because, even though I was not anticipating it, I was prepared: as soon as the ring swung near the cat, she jumped up to bat at it; being prepared, I had the area of interest in the LCD panel, so when the cat immediately reared up on her hind legs to bat the ring away, the instant I thought she was at full height, I shot.  I was prepared because my camera was on, flash was ready, I was at the right distance, and I had the subject covered in the LCD panel.

This is the full uncropped image.  Tautologically, I was ready for the shot (else I could not have taken it) and it is self-evident that I was not anticipating it because this (full, uncropped) image shows that it is not composed sufficiently tightly and the shooting angle is less than optimal (being too steep).  Nevertheless, in terms of camera and flash readiness and having the subject covered, I was prepared for it.

This photograph of the cat is one that was partly ‘made’ rather than strictly ‘found’ or stumbled upon as was the first photograph of the dog.  That said, it still required readiness and, in this case, preparedness, besides the experience to freeze the moment.

The lesson to be learnt is that even though you may not be anticipating the great shot, it cannot hurt to be ready and prepared, and it can only help.  If you know or sense that some subject may do something worth freezing on film (read magnetic media), simply keep your camera on, flash on if necessary, train it on the area of interest (which may not even have a subject or the subject of interest; see underneath) and keep yourself at an appropriate distance, finger on the shutter.

Read all the Parts – Shoot From the Hip Photography Master Class 

Readiness: Shoot From the Hip Photography Part 2

August 5th, 2012 No Comments

One evening I saw my dog Rusty regally stretched out on a petal-strewn section of a patch of grass in our compound.  I went indoors, got my camera and flash, returned to my dog and, murmuring affectionate words to try to get that happy expression dog-lovers know so well, took a photograph.  Half-a-second later, taken with the attention and affection, my dog did something she would seldom do: she started to roll around on the petal-strewn grass; an opportunity for a pretty shot that cannot be posed or set up. 

Though, with camera in hand and at the right distance from the subject, I was ready to shoot, I was not prepared for the shot:  my flash, low on juice, was still recycling so I was out on a limb in the evening light.  I did not even have my dog in the viewfinder, having let go of my camera so that it was hanging by its strap.  And clearly I had not anticipated it otherwise I would not have spent my flash on what was basically a ‘posed’ shot.

I did not wait for the flash to recycle; using the ambient evening light and going with AE, I snapped at  what I tried to make the right instant.  As it happened, in my excitement (Rusty was doing something she rarely did) and the low shutter-speed I got, I was not steady enough to notice the camera shake.  At the same time, the low shutter speed (and lack of flash!) fortuitously introduced a sense of motion in the image, while I did get reasonably good focus square on Rusty’s face.

Had I waited for the flash to recycle, thinking, “any second now,” I would have ended up missing the moment (or freezing Rusty without any blur or sense of motion).  Because I was ready (by chance) and, for the most part, made the right instantaneous decisions, I got a cute, somewhat comical, photo of my pet.

The lesson to be learnt is that you cannot even be prepared for, let alone anticipate, every good split-second shooting opportunity.  And if you spend any time to get that perfect shot, you may well lose the fleeting opportunity.  If you’re just camera-ready, then simply use your instincts, talent, and experience to make the most of the moment.  When you’re faced with the now-or-never moment, forget the photographic details  point, if necessary hold off a split-second for that precise moment, and shoot.

Read all the Parts – Shoot From the Hip Photography Master Class 


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