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Travel Photography II

The Pyramids

Louvre Museum,


shutter speed 6 seconds

aperture 16

ISO 250

focal lenght, 28mm


Smartphone, admittedly, has become an integral part of travel photography. One can access internet in most places these days. It provides map, and has a built in camera. It can be used for geotagging, while other functions such as making a call or sending a text message are within the reach.

Most American phone companies making it very expensive to use your cellphone internationally. The least expensive approach is to purchase a SIM card at the airport of destination. One may lookup ahead of time to see which company offers the least expensive package. To use the SIM card one needs to have an unlocked phone which may be purchased on eBay for about $50-60.

To further reduce wifi use, one may download an area in Google map to be used offline.

Photographing People

There are several ways a photographer may break the social and cultural barriers in order to get close to people, providing a unique circumstances to capture an unguarded moment. Respecting and at the same time trying to understand the culture of the region is indispensable. Starting some kind of dialogue always helps to establish a relation. Learning how to say hello or other common words in local language at times is invaluable. Having an smartphone provides an immediate access to above words and even their pronunciations.

Approaching people to ask permission to photograph them has always been a difficult issue. Although when one overcame the barrier and starts asking, often the answer is yes. Having a picture ID to offer is always is helpful. Some kind of business card with email address is quite useful to pass on to people being photographed. They should be reminded to feel free to send emails and ask for a copy of their pictures.

In photographing people, it is very important to have a clean background, so the person becomes the center of image without elements of background distracting viewer’s eye. A wide open lens focusing on a subject close to lens makes the background blurry, an ideal situation for photographing people and eliminating undesirable elements of background competing for the viewer’s attention. Additional advantage of wide open aperture is letting more light in, a considerable help in low light situations.

Know the Camera

It is extremely important to know the camera quite well. Particularly with street photography, one should spend almost no time looking at camera, an eye contact in photographing people on street is essential. Default setting of most cameras is 1/3rd, meaning rotating aperture dial three notches closes or opens the aperture by one stop. That is true for shutter dial as well. Learning to hear the sounds of dials rather looking at it, often is the difference between a natural looking image and the one was “posed”.

Places to photograph

Locals are always a great resource for places or events to photograph. If the city has a photography gallery, browsing images gives one information on locations. Studying the composition and lighting of the images, not to copy them, provides further information on potentials of various locations for photography. The owner can provide unparalleled information about where and when of photography. Although, it sounds cliche, yet one has to think outside the box, photographing temples and shrines in Japan, has been done ad nauseum, one has to find something else, again, going back to cliche, one has to get off the beaten roads: a different look at something Japanese or a familiar look of theme not so Japanese. Within the same context, one should avoid, if possible, to photograph things at eye level, finding a higher or lower position immensely influences the feel of the image, an ordinary image at the eye level, may become quite interesting at a different angle. Avoid busy background by getting low or high, work around the subject to find a better angle for light, experiment with photographing a subject from different positions and distance, later you can review the images on the monitor and discover considerable difference in quality of the captures.

It is all about Light

Understanding light, its direction, color, and softness helps one to compose a better frame. The best light for photography is a tangential light, when sun shines with an acute angle, sunrise and sunsets naturally provides the angle. Shortly before sunrise and after sunset light has a distinct cold quality called blue light, adding a cast of blue to the scene, offers an excellent opportunity for photography, On the other hand, after sunrise and before sunset, light is warm, with a yellow cast creating a completely different feeling in the image. Moreover, in northern hemisphere, during winter, December, January and February sun shine at a very acute angle, which reverses in summer, June, July and August. In southern hemisphere we have the same pattern, in winter, June, July and August, and Summer, December, January and February. During the equinoxes, the angle is between winter and summer, in both northern and southern hemisphere, except poles.

For street photography, one has to avoid using flash, instead finding a surface, a wall with light color, to bounce the light, provides an indirect and soft light, so-called fill light, which one needs to open up darker parts of an image, like faces, during the day. Professional photographers, often use flash, with low power, as fill light for daytime photography. Since using flash at night creates a diffuse highlights across the image, with no soft shadow, one should avoid it. For large subjects, building, bridges, flash is unable to provide adequate light; the solution there is having a tripod and long exposure, often several seconds. For people, one can increase ISO, as if increasing the sensor sensitivity to light, open up the aperture, and slow down shutter speed. Rule of thumb for shutter speed is one over focal length, using a 50mm lens, the shutter speed should not be slower than 1/50th second. High end lenses may have a feature called stabilization,a mechanism by which movable elements of lens, absorb a limited movement, and stay sharp. Yet, this does not mean one may capture a sharp image with shutter speed of 1/30th seconds, when the longest allowed speed is 1/50th second. Recently, some of the camera manufacturers have placed the stabilization mechanism inside camera body. This approach lowers cost of the lens drastically, as lenses with stabilization mechanism are more expensive than the ones without. With stabilization mechanism inside the camera body, one pays for the system just once.

Another approach for low light photography is to increase ISO, however, this technique has its downsides. By increasing ISO, the information sensor sends to camera, ultimately turning into an image, amplifies. As one turns up volume of radio without a good reception, in addition to volume, increases statics, by increasing ISO, not only one makes the information stronger, also increases a digital artifact called Noise, which is equal to grain in analog photography. There are several programs on the market to reduce the noise in post process. Cameras tend to introduce noise by long exposure, even if the ISO has been set to low. This noise is very resistent to post process treatment. Most cameras these days have the mechanism to reduce noise; when programed to remove the noise one should be aware it takes the same length of time-shutter speed-for camera to remove the noise-if shutter speed is 30 second, camera needs another 30 seconds to remove the noise, which may be troubling when one has to deal with a condition in which light changes rapidly.

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