Having the opportunity to learn photography from numerous instructors during the past year, I wanted to share the tips that have been most helpful for realizing my photographic vision.
Embracing the following has allowed me to refine my photography style significantly:
- Purchasing a tripod for long exposure photography. Given my fascination with capturing water motion and light trails, this has been essential. Buying one you love is KEY. I absolutely HATED the first two that I rented and wondered aloud why anyone would ever want to use a tripod.
- My three requirements: 1) Lightweight 2) Small enough to fit into a carry-on (Four section is needed. 3 section tripods won’t fit) 3) Twist legs
- I opted for an Oben carbon fiber tripod & Acratech ball head. The ballhead is not only super lightweight but also easier to clean than most ballheads given its open design.
- Using a neutral density (ND) filter to achieve light trails, smooth ocean waves or ethereal waterfalls. I use a SYRP variable ND filter that allows you to darken your image 1-8.5 stops. Since my lenses are all 77mm, I bought an 82mm filter with a step up ring to minimize vignetting.Dialing to 4 or 6 stops seems to be the sweet spot for most of my water images.
- Learning to shoot fully manual (I previously shot on auto).
- Note: When shooting wildlife, I typically use Aperture priority.
- We shoot Nikon, Canon & Sony. Sony’s mirrorless cameras compact size are great for travel!
- Shooting in RAW (rather than JPEG) to give greater latitude when post-processing/editing. RAW files contain more data, allowing you to recover details such as shadows and highlights (if needed).
CAPTURING ETHEREAL WATERFALLS & OCEANSCAPES
Does smooth ocean water or cotton candy like waterfall images transport and relax you? If you are following the Epic 7 Instagram feed, you’ll notice water features prominently as it’s my happy place. Learning how to achieve the ethereal effect is my proudest 2017 photography accomplishment.
TIP: Streams: A 0.5-0.7 second shutter speed is typically best for accentuating color gradations and water movement in a stream.
After learning this from Colby Brown during an Iceland photography workshop, I found this was definitely the sweet spot. If longer, the white elements are sometimes too bright (blown out).
Waterfalls: Using a 1-2 second shutter speed allows you to capture the ethereal, wispy waterfall look.
Shooting reflections has always been one of my favorites while traveling. While I knew windless days with calm water were key, I never thought much about the light. In looking back, the reflection images that I loved most were often accidental.
TIP: To capture the best reflections, make sure your subject is brightly lit by the sun and the water is in the shade. Using an aperture of F11 or F16 maximizes depth of field and ensures both the subject and reflection are in focus.
ACHIEVING A COOL SUNBURST EFFECT
A sun starburst peeking through trees is a look I have always enjoyed. In addition to providing a focal point for the image, it’s beautiful to see how the resulting light rays bathe a subject in light. The same effect works for street lamps too!
TIP: To achieve this look, using a smaller aperture (F16) is key. To maximize image quality and resolution, F16 is preferred to F22 or F32. Also, use a low ISO (100 or 200) to minimize any noise in the image. And, use manual focus to ensure your lens is focusing on the right plane.
THINKING IN TERMS OF ADJECTIVES
One of the best tips Tony Rizzuto gave me is to think of photography in terms of adjectives instead of nouns. Thinking about this before I click the shutter has definitely helped me improve my visual storytelling.
If you think of the essence you are trying to describe, it will allow you to more accurately capture that image you are envisioning and allow people to engage. Are you trying to capture chaotic? Or, is it delicate? Or perhaps majestic.
CONVEYING MOTION WITH STREET PHOTOGRAPHY
Delving into street photography in Venice was a lot of fun. Since my focus is primarily travel, landscape, and wildlife photography, this pushed me and expanded my boundaries.
Challenging myself to have my background chosen, exposure and speed set, I patiently observed people walking by, striving to capture the quintessential moments. I will admit I am not quick on the draw and much more comfortable having lots of time to set up my shot.
TIP: Use live view on the back of your camera and flip the screen up so that you can see it. Then, it appears that you are fiddling with your camera rather than taking a picture, making it more likely you will capture candid moments.
An old adage for photography is “F 8.0 and be there.” Setting your aperture to F 8.0 and ISO to 200 or 400 is a good starting point.
Also, to convey motion, try capturing moments where someone is stepping forward, thereby making a triangle with their legs. If his/her legs are together, it results in a more static image.
For more inspiration, check out Henri Cartier Bresson’s black and white imagery. He was masterful at capturing “The Decisive Moment.”
FINDING THE MAGIC DURING SUNRISE AND SUNSET
Photographing 30 minutes BEFORE sunrise or 30 minutes AFTER sunset is ideal for optimal light. Before instructors told me this, I was, like most others, leaving right after sunset, not realizing the best light was still to come.
Or, I often found myself hitting the snooze button and showing up just in time for sunrise, having already missed the gorgeous soft light. Sound familiar?
Landscape and city photography are gorgeous during this time. I particularly loved how Venice lit up during this hour. The very end of it, known as Blue Hour, is my favorite. Assuming it’s a clear, non-cloudy night, the sky will be a beautiful blue color.
TIP: Using a tripod is key since it’s a lower light situation. And, a remote shutter release (or the 2 second delay timer on your camera – my go to) minimizes any camera shake/vibration. Make sure to turn off image stabilization/vibration reduction when you have your camera on your tripod.
In Venice, 15-30 seconds seemed to be the sweet spot for light trails. And, waiting for a vaporetto to pass resulted in the most interesting and substantial light trails.
LIGHTING UP WILDLIFE DURING GOLDEN HOUR
Visiting sights later in the day often leads to fewer crowds and gorgeous golden light. And, for wildlife, the cooler afternoon/dusk means time to wake up from mid-day siestas and get going. This light is typically one hour BEFORE sunset.
The shadows at this time are softer and more desirable than they are with harsh, mid-day light.
CHANGING UP YOUR PERSPECTIVE
Since the majority of people are 5’2 to 6 feet (1.5-1.8 meters) tall, most images are taken from this perspective. By getting low, you can emphasize the hero in your shot. Altering the height and angle of your camera can lead to some interesting images.
Firstly, I positioned myself six inches off the ground to frame Basilica di Santa Maria amongst strong lines. Then, to juxtapose the monument’s historical stature with commuter’s transient nature, I used my ND filter + a longer exposure to minimize the number of people and convey a sense of movement.
Also, remember that the “obstacle can be your opportunity“. While capturing this mother and daughter wasn’t my original intent, the young child in her bright jacket contrasted beautifully against the Basilica and provided an anchor and visual interest.
NAILING ABSTRACT SHOTS
Experimenting with these for the first time in Venice was a lot of fun. Did you know that successful abstract images are all about the color, geometry and spaces?
TIP: Think about how you want the viewers eyes to move between the elements and compose accordingly.
IMPROVING VISUAL STORYTELLING
If you are focused on visual storytelling, landscape/horizontal orientation is preferred since you have more real estate.
Three key storytelling elements are:
- Subject – what is your “hero” in the image?
- Context – how will you give a sense of place with the surrounding elements?
- Moment – what is the critical moment that you want to capture? A bird taking off? Money/a product changing hands? A blowing flower? Someone enjoying an ice cream cone?
Ask yourself if the light is worthy of photographing the subject. Find the light first and then identify the subject matter within the light.
In images, we are attracted to the sharpest, most saturated, highest contrast areas.
Since lighter, brighter areas tend to attract our eyes, if the sky isn’t particularly interesting, exclude it to ensure the focus is on your intended subject.
TIP: Check out “The Photographer’s Eye” by Michael Freeman. This fantastic resource has aided me with improving my composition. Touching upon design, graphic elements, light and color, I’ve found it to be an incredibly helpful book that I reference often.
Attending workshops and having my work critiqued has been critical for my growth. It has taught me to see differently, think about the edges in my photos and ensure that light is my single most important consideration.
- Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula, Montana, provided an important foundation. Attending three week-long workshops helped tremendously:
- Basic Photography class taught me to: 1) shoot on manual 2) understand the reciprocal relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO 3) learn exposure and histograms 4) understand aperture/depth of field 5) think about composition
- Intermediate Photography afforded me the opportunity to: 1) learn zone system for exposure 2) refine my compositional understanding 3) embrace macro photography 4) enjoy low light and night photography
- Lightroom allowed me to learn how to 1) import, cull, flag, catalog and keyword photos 2) develop a workflow 3) understand the value of local adjustment tools: adjustment brush, graduated filter, radial filter 4) employ spot removal 5) set up presets and export
- Photographers Breakthrough. After gaining a foundational understanding at RMSP, workshops with Tony Rizzuto & Tim Cooper have aided me with taking my visual storytelling to the next level. They are gifted teachers who offer a variety of workshops, so the best fit will depend on your interests. Street, oceanscapes, landscape, black & white, and macro are all offered.
- TIP: Their workshops fill within a few minutes of opening, so make sure to sign up for their newsletter to stay abreast of new offerings
- To learn Lightroom, purchase the Photographers Breakthrough 6.5 hour online course. Tim is a Lightroom Master! I learn something new from him during every Photographers Breakthrough workshop.
- Their weekly blog is also great for inspiration and learning.
- Photography Life is a weekly newsletter filled with helpful tips and camera & lens reviews
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