19 June 2008

Independent Travel 101: Taking Good Photos

This is the eighth of a series of entries about independent travel. Note that this is not professional advice: these are simply subjective opinion of the author, who happens to be an independent traveler.

I do not want to claim that I am a professional photographer. Believe me, I am not. I just bring a simple camera with me whenever I go, and I just shoot a lot.

So I am surprised when people say that my photography is superb. If you have clicked on a link I had here in an earlier post about my blog being ranked, apparently, one of the plus points of this blog is that it has "superb" photos. Well, if my photos are superb, then thank you. Let me tell you my not-so-secretive secret.

I guess you have noticed that most if not all of my own pictures I upload here have one common theme, that is, they show shots of travel. Yep, my photos are in the genre of travel photography. My mom complains that she wants more photos where I am in the picture, but my reasoning is that I can always see how I look if I just stand in front of the mirror, but I cannot do the same with Machu Picchu. Instead, I see my shower curtain.

So folks, if you want to have superb photos like these as well, then read on.

First, you don't have to have a very hi-technology camera whenever you go. Just a simple point-and-shoot will be fine. I currently use a Sony DSC-S600 with 6.0 mega pixels and 3x optical zoom. Granted, with a digital camera as simple as this, I cannot do dramatic fish-eye shots, or those intense ultra-zoom shots. But, I believe this equipment would be enough to keep memories alive, which is my main purpose in taking pictures anyway.

Framing is crucial. You have to see what gets in your viewfinder. Compose your shots well, and you will make your audience gasp at how wonderful the shot is. I have to admit, the subject is vital here. I don't know any photography theories, I didn't go to art school, and so I really think that when reviewers think that my photography is superb, that is highly due to the subject I am shooting. Well, my most recent bunch of photos that I have here are photos of Machu Picchu, so why can that not be superb?

Anyway, back to topic. Yes, speaking of framing, I am pretty sure you will have more accurate information if you read photography books, I am simply pointing you to the right direction.

Regarding flash, I rarely use them. Even during night shots. The thing is, flash usually floods your subject with light, so it ends up that you have this one super bright thing in the middle, and the background is ultra dark. If your camera has a low-light setting, then this is perfect. You have to learn how to hold your camera very still though, since shooting in low-light settings require a longer exposure time, so if you move, then the shot will be blurred. Better yet, get a tripod.

Flash can also be used to create different effects even if it is not dark. To illustrate the difference between flashed and un-flashed exposures, look at this shot for a flashed version, and this shot for an un-flashed version. Both were taken two years ago, using the same camera, in a semi-lighted church crypt in the Czech countryside.

Still speaking of lighting, the thing I hate the most when taking photographs outside is when it is sunny. The reason is because the sun is a source of light, and you can't move it around for your convenience. This shot I believe is an example of a bad shot. I took this shot of the Church of Saint Barbara two years ago, and the sun in front of me just drowns the facade of the church, making it darker than what it is supposed to.

Aside from that, there are a number of creative things that you can do. Experiment with weird angles. I guess it helps if you know your geometry, both Euclidian and non-Euclidian. Most digital cameras also have a black-and-white or sepia feature. Use these to give some aged effect on your shots. This shot is taken inside Prague's Old Clock Tower, using a weird angle, while this shot was taken in Vysehrad, using black-and-white, making the effect that it is quite an old photo when in reality, it is not.



(Rock Tunnels, from my Watkins Glen Series)

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