Photography Tips: How to get that great shot while on holidays
Are you heading overseas? Do you love taking photos? If so, this article is for you and it will give you a brief guide on the type of cameras, what we use, as well as the basics (and I mean basics) to take that ‘perfect’ shot on your next adventure!
Taking photos sounds easy, right? Well, it is… but you need to know some basics to ensure you get the right shot. I am a long way off being a professional… I’ve had no lessons and all the photos on the blog are purely the outcome of a few tips we picked up from fellow travellers and through a bit of curiosity.
We have had a number of people ask what camera we use… but the truth is, we use a mid-range camera that is a great point and shoot camera – perfect for anyone! It isn’t the camera you use that captures great photos, it is how you use your camera and learning what to look for to capture that perfect photo.
What we use…..
It depends! We now choose between our Sony NEX-6 camera, GoPro Hero 4 Black, Panasonic HC-V520M 80x zoom video camera and iPhone 6s when on the run. The device we use purely depends on where we are and what we’re trying to capture!
What you may have just noticed is that none of these are overpriced and complicated devices. They’re easy to use, great quality and most importantly, affordable.
The Camera: Sony NEX-6
There are three common types of cameras:
- Compact point and shoot
My opinion: don’t bother, use your mobile phone instead!
- Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR)
Many of your ‘photographer’ friends probably own a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera. I bet none of them actually knew what DSLR stood for when they bought it and I bet the majority of them still do not know how to correctly operate it!The good: the choice for professionals have the best battery life, the most flexibility for manual settings and collaboration and currently the best choice if you’re shooting pro sports or fast-moving subjects in low light. The quality of the photos and lens options are enormous as these have been around for years.The bad: Size. Weight. Price. Complexity. No live preview. Honestly, the biggest downside for me is the bulky nature of the DSLRs, I know too many people who bought a great DSLR and simply couldn’t be bothered taking it with them.
This is what we use. This is what the majority will be using in a few years.The good: Size. Weight. Price. Live Preview. Electronic View Finders (and less damage to your eyes). Quieter. The quality of the photos are great and rivals the DSLRs. Adaptable lenses for those long-range shots, manual settings for the adventurous and simply There are many more benefits, but trust me, as an every day, great, camera. Don’t trust me? Google it!The Bad: Continuous focus, in particular for pro-sports and fast-moving objects in low light. Battery life is good but given the live preview and electronic viewfinders, these do not last as well as the DSLRs.
The camera you buy is the most important decision you need to make. You’re either going to love or hate your device and in my opinion, there isn’t a middle ground. Spend the time to get to a camera store and ask them what they would recommend!
Our NEX-6 is now a couple of years old, superseded but still performing strong! I’ll publish a post when we upgrade our camera next year to identify why we bought what we bought (when we buy it!).
The mirrorless cameras are small, light and you’re able to pop it into a small camera bag, or even better in your (or your wife’s handbag) when you’re walking around without it weighing anyone down. From this angle one additional feature, we love about the NEX-6 is the hand grip which you can see on the right, it is very comfortable to hold in one hand.
The cameras generally come with the body and the standard 50mm lens which is fantastic for about 95% of the photos you will ever need to take. The pack we bought included a 55-210mm lens which for the longer range photos. The lens quality is incredible and on a different level to the standard lens. If you’re looking for that ‘professional photo’ look, then it is worth spending the money on a lens, these days it has very little to do with the megapixels but much more to do with sensors and the quality of the glass!
Video Camera: Panasonic HC-V520
For around 18 months, we used the Panasonic video camera for all of our videos. The handy cam is extremely small, light and surprisingly records pretty good quality video! The most impressive feature of the handy cam is its intelligent 80x zoom / 50x optical zoom… you can literally see the craters on the moon!
However, since getting a Macbook, and struggling with compatibility with the files, we convinced ourselves to get the GoPro Hero 4 Black… The item has since become a bit of a dust collector, between the video option on the NEX-6 camera and our GoPro we simply have no need to have a separate handy cam.
GoPro Hero 4 Black: For the past 9 months, we have been using our GoPro Hero 4 Black for our video. The lens is super wide meaning you can capture so much more in your photo… so much more than a regular camera lens. If you’re taking a video, you can then freeze the frame on the computer and get a photo from the video – it is really incredible! The camera also shoots in 4K if you want… I would highly recommend the GoPro – money well spent! We take the GoPro with us everywhere we would take the camera. We take photos on both, and additional video on the GoPro to ensure we have everything covered. The GoPro is particularly good for taking selfies given the lens is so wide! You’re bound to fit everyone in 🙂
Watch this space for a complete blog on the GoPro Hero 4 Black!
iPhone: These days, no one travels without their smartphone! Sometimes you just don’t have your equipment on you, or you’ve just popped out for a walk or a bite to eat and you see something cool! In that instance, we would use our iPhone (5s, 6s or 6+) to take some happy snaps.. especially when it came to the group selfie on our selfie stick!
What is it you’re wanting to photograph?
This is probably the most important question to ask. Before you take a photo, you need to know what exactly you’re taking the photo of… Is it a structure, a person, an animal or landscapes etc? Once you have that bit covered, the rest will fall into place.
Following these simple tips, you will be sure to improve your photography skills!
Don’t leave your camera at home simple right? There is nothing more frustrating than missing a great photo opportunity. Now, assuming you have your camera on you, ask yourself:
Is your photo/horizon level? Speaking from experience, it is annoying having to level your photo on the computer afterward so taking the time to actually look at what you’re photographing is key. Our camera has a green level on the screen when taking a photo so, for the most part, it is quick and easy for us to see when the camera is horizontally level. But there is much more to it, look for those visual guides, and frame your picture not only by looking at the object you want to capture, but also the environment surrounding it.
Are there shadows? Can you see your own shadow in the photo? If so, move to a slightly different spot so you don’t get your shadow in the picture. If you’re capturing an object or another person, try to keep the full shadow in the frame rather than focussing purely on the object itself.
Are there people in your photo? There are two ways to look at this, people can really add to the photo, but sometimes all you need to do is wait a couple of minutes and you’ll capture that perfect shot as if you were visiting the destination completely on your own.
Does your photo tell a story? People can often take a beautiful photo, but sometimes it lacks a story or a focal point. For example, there are thousands, of bicycles and I could have easily taken hundreds of photos of bicycles and cobblestone streets which I’m sure would have been beautiful, but simply wandering the city we wandered down this gorgeous street with a bright red bicycle, to me this is the moment and photo that I wanted to capture, it is the first picture I think of when I think Amsterdam, bicycles and the buildings along the canals. Everyone has a different story to tell and you may look at the photo and think nothing of it, but to me this is perfect.
Something else to remember, what you’re photographing doesn’t always need to be front and centre. Quite often, the object you’re trying to capture can look more appealing in a photo if it is off to the side.
Landscape photos are picturesque, calming and just beautiful… Given there are no objects in the photo, one would imagine they would be easy to capture? Wrong! Landscapes are surprisingly intricate and can at times be difficult to capture. It can all come down to lighting… where the sun is at that particular time, is it dark, too bright, shadows etc… For example, we hiked to Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen) for the sunrise. You really need to arrive before the sunrise so you can capture the lighting as it changes and the colours on the mountains appear to change with the light.
Using our NEX-6, there is an intelligent auto function which automatically changes the setting to landscape for you, otherwise, you can adjust the setting to landscape and let the camera do the rest of the work! Also, you may want to put the main object of the picture off to the side, for example in the below sunset picture.
How many times have you taken a picture only to get back to your computer and see that their face is blurry? Annoying isn’t it. Most cameras have a portrait setting.
If you select this setting, the autofocus should identify faces in the photo, illustrated by a box that will appear around the face(s) within the frame… when the box appears you know you’ve got it and 9 times out of 10 the face will be in full focus! Another thing you can do is to check the photo before you leave your location by simply zooming in on preview mode to check the quality of the photo.
Animals / Action Shots
Both animals and action shots require a similar style of photography. Using a standard setting, you will find it very difficult to capture moving animals without them being blurry or action shots (for example people running, or doing the ‘jump’ shot in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza) never working out…
A simple solution for this one… Use the speed priority setting on your camera. You may end up with 15 photos, but you can then go through and delete all of the ‘fails’ and keep only the successful ones!
When it comes to animals – don’t be afraid to get up close and personal!!
After travelling throughout Europe extensively, we’ve come across many beautiful structures whether it be churches, museums or the Eiffel tower. When taking the photo, remember to get some diversity and try putting the structure in the corner of the frame, or get down low and take the photo looking up at the structure. The options are endless!! Be creative – try out many different angles and check them out on the laptop afterward and you can decide which ones to keep!
Night photography .. probably the trickiest of them all. In the past, we have found it quite difficult to get the perfect night time shot. However, with our Sony NEX-6 and the incredibly easy to use settings, this isn’t too tricky for us now! To be technical, it is all about the shutter speed… but in simple terms, we use either intelligent auto, night portrait or hand held night scene and lean on something stable so the camera doesn’t move when you press the button in… Another sure tip is to use a tripod to ensure your camera is steady – this will help keep your night time image clear. With these couple of tips, you will be sure to capture the perfect photo! Simple as that!
Got the basics? ready to move on from intelligent auto?
There are three pillars in photography underlying the manual settings. There are many detailed guides and reviews online, but in simple terms:
- ISO – the International Standards Organisation set the sensitivity ratings for cameras. Examples of ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600.When you change your ISO setting, you’re adjusting your camera’s sensitivity to light. Low numbers represent a lower sensitivity to available light, while high numbers mean more sensitivity. Whilst handy to increase the sensitivity to light (in low light conditions), allowing you to take photos without the use of a flash, it comes at a cost, as the ISO increases, so do the grain/noise in the images.You should always try and stick to your camera’s base ISO (generally a 100 or 200) to get the highest quality photos.
- Aperture – the magic of blurring items such as the background or ensuring everything is sharp and in focus.Basically, the aperture is the depth of field, created through a hole within the lens. The size of the hole is adjustable and the purpose is to allow light to travel into the camera body. The larger the hole, the more light passes to the camera sensor.Aperture is the “f” numbers in the adjustable settings. Examples of f-numbers are: f/0.7, f/0.8/, f1.0, … f/4.0, f/5.6, … f/32.0, f/38.0 and so forth.A large f-number such as f/38, (smaller hole in the lens) will result in all items within the frame to be in focus, while a small f-number such as f/1.4 will focus on the foreground and the background will become blurry.
- Shutter Speed is the exposure time, the length of time a camera shutter is open to expose light to the camera sensor. The faster the shutter speed, the quicker motion is frozen in time. This is ideal for fast-moving objects. Slow shutter speeds allow more light into the camera sensor and are used for low-light and night photos. Examples of shutter speeds: 1/15, 1/30, 1/125 and so forth. These are measured as fractions of a second.
If you’re about to head on a northern light expedition or want to create a trail of light or be a bit more artistic in your photography, then I would definitely recommend being curious and have a go at a few of these settings! I only play with the settings around 5% of the time and whilst it can be the most frustrating experience, it can also be one of the most rewarding.
Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything – Aaron Siskind