Travel Photography: How to Capture the Character of a Place

Many different elements go into making up the character of a particular destination or location, whether it be a far flung exotic city or your home town. It is the travel photographer’s job to cover these elements in order to present that character to the viewer. This article looks into what goes into bringing the character of a place to the audience.

Essential Elements

There are many separate “parts” that make a location what it is, but these generally boil down to landscape, people, and culture. Let’s look at these in a little more depth.

Landscape

Every city, mountain range, or coastal area has its own unique look and feel. This might be created by architecture exclusive to that part of the world, such as Gaudi’s designs that are so prominent in Barcelona. Or well known landmarks (Eiffel Tower anyone?) or rough seas and steep cliffs like those so characteristic of the northern coasts of Scotland and Ireland. What does it look like in the morning? At night? The location might take on several personalities through the day, so it is essential to capture as many of these as you can to give a broader picture.

People

Possibly the most influential factor in the character of a location is the people who live there. The way they look and dress, the way they carry themselves, the lifestyle they live, and the customs they observe. Is there a particular piece of clothing that defines them? Or maybe a certain characteristic? For example, if they are known to be happy and smiling people, show them as such. If they are known to be hardworking, try to include some shots of workers.

Culture

This can encompass subjects such as food and drink. Local dishes give an immediate insight into the way of life lived by people of a particular place. Freshly caught seafood may be a specialty of the area, or it may be famous for a particular dessert or drink. Culture can also be shown in the festivals and events held in the particular region. This might be an annual parade where locals dress in the traditional costumes of their ancestors or a huge street party that captures the energy and vibrancy of a population.

Putting It All Together

To put these elements in photographic terms, I like to think of the process as zooming in on a subject. Starting with the landscape element described above, you essentially form an overview—or wide angle view—of the subject, capturing surroundings. Distinctive buildings and landmarks give a feel and sometimes instant recognition to the location.

Zoom in to form a collective portrait of the people, their way of life, and daily activities. It is a good idea to use both posed portraits and candid shots to show personalities as well as customs and way of life.

Finally zoom in further to capture details such as local food and dishes and detailed studies of buildings. Text such as in shop signs shows languages spoken. Also, look for any products that are traditional or well known in the area. For example, leather goods from Morocco or electronics from Japan.

Travel photography is, in a sense, a very broad specialization. Possibly not a specialization at all. A travel photographer needs to be a landscape photographer, portrait photographer, still life photographer, and nature photographer—often all in the space of a single shooting session. Learn to cover all these elements within the broader subject, and you are well on your way to becoming a more accomplished photographer.

How to Use Bulb Mode on a Camera for innovation

There is a special setting on all DSLR and mirrorless cameras that allows the photographer to go beyond the longest automatic shutter speed setting of 30 seconds. In fact, this special setting allows infinitely longs exposures to be made. This is the Bulb setting, or Bulb exposure mode.

The shutter speed range on a DSLR camera finishes at 30 seconds. One click below that selection is Bulb, which allows the photographer to manually hold the shutter open for as long as is required as the shutter button is pressed down. The camera bulb exposure setting is only available in Manual mode.

The Bulb mode is basically a creative feature. It allows shots to be taken that are minutes long, rather than seconds. A typical image to capture using this feature is one of star trails when the night sky is clear. Simply aim the camera to the north or south celestial pole, depending on which hemisphere you live.

Another common image to capture is of the trails of vehicle lights when it is dark. These moving lights will create artistic streaks of white and red patterns emitted from the head lights and tail lights of passing traffic. If you are near a traffic junction you may capture orange streaks from indicator lights. And if you’re lucky enough, you may get a streak of blue from the flashing light of an emergency vehicle.

Here then are the three things you must do in order to shoot in Bulb mode, in other words, with the camera’s shutter open:

Use a Tripod: Attach the camera to a tripod in order to ensure that no camera movement will ruin the shot. You don’t have to use a tripod so long as the camera is on a solid base, like a wall. Turn off the any anti-shake mechanisms you may might have on your camera or on the lens.

Use a Remote Shutter Release: A remote shutter release will prevent vibrations ruining the shot as you press the shutter button. No matter how careful you are, you will always cause a tiny bit of vibration as you depress the shutter button. That doesn’t matter with fast shutter speeds, but in Bulb mode you will record vibrations, however small. If you don’t have a remote cable, use the camera’s built-in self-timer delay, which is just as effective. A two second delay will be adequate.

Switch to Manual Mode: While metering can be less straightforward with the Bulb exposure setting due to the extended exposure times, it’s still a useful guide for initial settings. Therefore, switch your camera to Manual mode to have full control over the exposure. Start by selecting an aperture that suits your scene; f/8 or f/11 are good starting points as they often provide a sharp image across a wide depth of field. Set your ISO to a low value like 100 or 200 to reduce sensor noise, which can be more pronounced in long exposures. Because Bulb mode exposures can vary greatly, it’s advisable to take several test shots to refine your settings. Adjust the aperture, ISO, and initial exposure time based on these tests until you achieve the desired effect for your final long-exposure image in Bulb mode.

8 Things You Should Always Keep in Your Camera Bag

There are a few things every photographer should keep in his or her camera bag. Check our list to make sure you’re not forgetting something important!

1. Spare memory card

There’s nothing worse than having the perfect shot, going to take your picture, and your camera telling you your memory card is full. To avoid going through all your pictures on the spot and deleting the bad ones—which is incredibly frustrating and time-consuming—keep a few spare memory cards in your bag at all times; they take up zero space, so there’s no excuses!

2. Microfiber cloth

A microfiber cloth is one of the most useful and cheapest accessories a photographer can have in their bag. It’s primarily used for cleaning dirt and dust off of camera lenses, but it’s also extremely useful for wrapping up other accessories in your camera bag (memory cards, lenses, flashes), to keep them from being scratched or damaged.

3. Plastic bag

It happens to all of us photographers: we get stuck in the rain. Make sure you have a grocery bag tucked away in your camera bag for those unexpected downpours. All you need is a hole in the bag for the lens, and you have an inexpensive way to keep your camera dry and still get your perfect shot.

4. Mini tripod

Carrying a full size tripod isn’t always practical. Keep a mini tripod in your camera bag so you are never caught without a camera support again. Travel models can be folded very small for storage, and although they are obviously not as sturdy as full size tripods, they are still versatile. They can be set up in places a full size tripod would struggle with (in trees, on walls, very uneven surfaces) and are perfect for low-light photography.

5. Flash

A flash is excellent for adding additional light to your shot. If you haven’t tried before, you’ll quickly see that it will add a whole new depth and dimension to your photography. A flash is a must for every serious photographer.

6. Battery

A full day of shooting will eat away at your battery life, especially if you overuse the LCD screen, which drains the battery quickly. I always like to keep a spare battery in my bag. I also find that turning your camera off and on repeatedly uses a lot of battery power. Hopefully, keeping a spare battery is obvious; if your battery runs flat, there’s nothing else to do but pack up and go home!

7. Lens

If you’re using a camera with a changeable lens, it is vital to have at least one extra lens. This is to give you greater choice with your focal length and will also be a backup lens if anything happens to your primary lens.

8. Manual- optional

Keeping your manual in your bag, might just save you one day. It can be used to sort out a camera problem or a setting you are struggling with. It can be difficult to remember the variety of settings on your camera, so always keep it handy!

8 point -You Know You’re a Photographer When…

Being a photographer is more than just a hobby or a career choice—it’s life. Something you feel you literally could not live without. Every instant of your waking moment, you feel the dire need to pull your camera out and take a picture of the beauty of your surroundings. Sound familiar? I have compiled a list of eight ways you know when you’re a photographer.

1. You get upset when you don’t have your camera on you.

I feel as though every photographer knows this feeling. For instance, maybe you decide to go for a walk down to the beach and accidentally leave your camera sitting on the kitchen bench. When you go to take a picture, your heart drops. And the only reason you don’t know you’re missing your camera until you get to the beach is because you’re so used to it being in your hands; it’s almost second nature. Your body has adapted to your photography addiction, and it doesn’t recognize when something is drastically wrong. Am I right?

2. Lighting > Equipment

At some stage in a photographer’s life, there comes a point when having the best equipment just doesn’t cut it. You begin to realize that there’s more to a good photo than the equipment (although it’s still one of my many pleasures) You realize that the the lighting of the photograph is the important part. Unfortunately, there is (arguably) no tool that can give you perfect lighting other than taking a photo at the right time, at the right angle, and using the lighting of the situation to your advantage.

3. You can make crap look good.

Okay, so this one might be stretching it, if we’re taking the point literally. I mean, maybe you can turn a piece of dog poo into art, but that’s not entirely the point I’m trying to make. Basically, as a photographer, you see potential photographs that most people couldn’t imagine being a photograph. Maybe it’s a picture of a trash can or a brick wall—whatever it is, you begin to think outside the box; you begin to take pictures, and you develop a sense of what makes good photographs, regardless of what other people may think.

4. Your camera battery runs out before any other gadget.

Photographers are known best for having their cameras with them at all times. Regardless of the event, the camera will be glued to the photographer’s hand for that perfect moment to take a quick photo. However, this comes with negative repercussions. The camera batteries do not last a lifetime. Unfortunately, photographers must face the constant annoyance of having their camera battery die before their phone battery. For most “normal” people, this is simply unfathomable. For photographers, this is the harsh reality of being addicted to using a camera.

5. You think the sound of a camera shutter is pleasurable.

There is nothing I love more than the sound of a camera shutter. It’s like music to my ears, and I know many people who can relate. For some, the sound of birds is pleasurable; for others, it’s math equations (is that even a thing?). But for photographers, it’s the sound of the camera shutter—knowing that a high quality photograph will be a result of the shutter. Surely there are more of us out there?!

6. You get annoyed at people who buy top-of-the-line cameras only to take selfies.

When you take photography seriously, just like any other form of art, nothing is worse than people who purchase the latest and the greatest cameras only to take photos of themselves. Okay, in some cases, it can be a justified purchase. Maybe you’re a model? But if you’re uploading it to Facebook for only your friends and family to see, then maybe you can understand why photographers get irritated. You see, photographers (in most cases) very rarely take photos of themselves. Instead, they’re exploring the beauty of the world around them too much to worry about themselves.

7. You are offended when someone makes a harsh comment about your camera.

“Your camera looks too big,” for example, is just unnecessary criticism. What do you want me to do about the size of my camera? Do you think I didn’t notice? People don’t seem to understand that if you insult the camera, then you might as well insult the camera owner. At least we then have a reason to get offended, right? I mean, how would you feel if someone came up to you and said you had a big nose? Is that more of a justified reason to act offended? If you’re a photographer, then the answer is no.

8. Traveling is more about photography than it is relaxing.

Finally, we have come to my favorite point of all: traveling. For most people, traveling is more about relaxing—building strong memories to last a lifetime. Photographers want much more than that. We want to be reminded of our traveling experiences with physical memories—photographs of our experiences. Why have a slice of cake when you can have the whole thing? That’s not to say that photographers don’t know how to relax, but we would rather capture the surroundings of the location than waste our time sleeping on the beach.

6 Tips for Controlling Depth of Field

Depth of field (DOF) is one of the most important factors in determining the look and feel of a photograph. It’s also the most overlooked for photographers moving from a point-and-shoot camera to a DSLR camera. With a DSLR, you have a huge amount of control over depth of field, and you should know how to utilize that control.

What is Depth of Field?

Depth of field refers to the distance (depth) from the focus point that a photo will be sharp, while the rest becomes blurry. A large, or wide, depth of field results in much of the photo in focus.

A small, or narrow, depth of field results in much more of the photo out of focus.

Neither approach is better or right, and which depth of field to use is up to you. You may have different reasons for choosing a certain depth of field, including artistic effect, bringing attention to a subject, or crisp representation of a scene.

There are four main factors that control depth of field: lens aperture, lens focal length, subject distance, and sensor size. Your sensor is pretty well set, so you won’t have much luck changing that. Your focal length and distance to the subject are usually determined by your choice of composition. So the lens aperture is your primary control over depth of field.

Before I get to the tips, let’s get a few things straight:

BIG APERTURE = SMALL F-NUMBER = SMALL DEPTH OF FIELD
SMALL APERTURE = BIG F-NUMBER = BIG DEPTH OF FIELD

Aperture Control

Large apertures (small f-numbers) cause a narrow DOF, while small apertures (large f-numbers) cause a wide DOF. To bring attention to a subject by blurring a background (selective focus), shoot with f-numbers like f/2.8, f/4, or f/5.6. To bring the whole scene into focus, shoot with f-numbers like f/16 or f/22.

Avoid Excess DOF

If you want to bring an entire scene into focus and keep it sharp, use a small aperture. But be careful not to go too small. Lens sharpness starts to deteriorate at the smallest apertures. Use enough to get what you want, and no more. You may have to experiment a bit to get a feel for how your camera and lenses work at different apertures.

Focus Point

The DOF extends behind and in front of the point of focus. It usually extends further behind than in front, though. So keep this in mind when choosing your focus point; you’ll want to focus about a third of the way into the scene rather than halfway.

Use a Tripod

As you stop down the lens for greater depth of field, you’re also letting less light into the camera. To compensate for this and maintain correct exposure, you’ll need to either use longer shutter speeds or a higher ISO. The ISO can only be increased so much before noise artifacts become an issue, so you’ll most likely want to lengthen your shutter speed. If your shutter speed is too long, you’ll need a tripod (or some type of stabilization) to deal with this.

DOF Preview

When looking through the viewfinder of a DSLR camera, you’re seeing the world through the lens. You can easily see your resulting composition and point of focus, but the depth of field you’re witnessing is a little false. You’re seeing the resulting depth of field for the largest aperture of the lens, no matter what f-number you’ve chosen. Most newer cameras have a feature called DOF Preview that allows you to stop the lens down to the chosen aperture so you can see the true depth of field.

Focal Length

As I mentioned, your focal length is usually determined by your choice of composition, but you should know how it affects your depth of field. Longer focal lengths (200mm) have less depth of field than shorter focal lengths (35mm). Just keep this in mind when you’re trying to achieve a certain depth of field—you may need to alter your focal length in addition to your aperture.

So there are your basic tips for controlling your depth of field when taking photographs. The best way to learn how to control DOF is to set your camera to aperture priority mode and go take some pictures. Photograph the same subject many different times while altering the aperture, point of focus, and focal length (if you have multiple lenses or a zoom lens). Either write down the settings you used for each picture or use software to view your camera’s settings while you look through the pictures on your computer. You’ll begin to see how these different factors affect your photos.