"The question is not what you look at, but what you see." - Henry David Thoreau

It's never been easier to take pictures. The techniques that professional photographers once spent years perfecting are now available to everyone at the touch of a button on cameras, tablets and cell phones. Photography is the new vernacular because it’s fun, quick and easy. A good photograph is all about thinking and shooting your subject from your point of view. A successful picture makes a clear statement. The camera takes the photo, but the photographer makes the picture.

The following tips for photographing what travelers like most are based on my observations as a professional photographer. I may not make you a pro overnight, but I hope you’ll improve your images.

London EyeCourtesy of Gary Crallé

Major Sites

To photograph a major landmark, it’s important to understand a bit of its history and the significance of its setting. Research or ask a local guides for as much information as you can, then begin your interpretation. Analyse the “greatness” factor of what you are viewing to decide what you want to emphasize. It could be the unique location of a sight, a particular style of architecture, the history behind a monument or the geological forces that created a particular attraction. 

First impressions are important, so follow your gut feeling and shoot as soon as you feel all the elements coming together, especially if the light and conditions around you are changing. Are those thunderclouds about to move into position as a nice backdrop? Will early morning light outline characteristic features better than now? Will the subject be illuminated at night? A subject can be isolated to make it timeless or shown as part of modern surroundings. Can unsightly elements like wires and poles be removed by taking two steps to the side? Can you include any local culture, such as a vendor, flag or souvenir? Postcards offer great inspiration for your own pictures. 

Be prepared to contend with crowds and be patient. Waiting for just the right people with the most colorful clothing to wander by may require extra time but your reward may be a unique image.

Plate of FruitCourtesy of Gary Crallé

Food

Food photography is an art and technology is producing some amazing results with very basic digital devices. It’s like portraiture with the added pizzazz of multiple textures and colors.  Lighting is most important in food photography, determining the color and texture of components, and therefore the appeal to viewers. Warm tones with open shadows work well so a window rendering back or side light is a perfect choice.  Try to avoid direct flash - it’s too harsh. Instead bounce the electronic flash off a neutral colored wall or ceiling for a softer light. Some smart digital devices have food settings that balance direct flash with existing light. I sometimes hold a white napkin on the shadow side of a plate of food to illuminate the dark areas.  Think about matching the type of light to the food: soft light for pastel colored fruits, and bright light for in-your-face fast foods like pizza. Don’t forget environmental portraits to show your location. I’ve been known to carry my plate around and even outside a restaurant to find the best spot for a shot.

Finally - quicker is better when it comes to hot foods, as these are best photographed while fresh and steaming.

ClownsCourtesy of Gary Crallé

People

There are more ways to photograph people than there are people. Whether your subjects are friends, family or complete strangers, photographs of people fall into one of two categories: posed or unposed.  For posed pictures, establish a personal connection by looking your subject in the eyes. Give your subject time to relax, take a deep breath and loosen up. Getting involved with your subjects can elevate a photograph from a snapshot to a portrait.  Close up portraits made by either moving closer to your subject(s) or by using a longer focal length lens have impact. A contrasting approach could be to make an environmental portrait showing people within the context of their surroundings.  Choose a background that doesn’t distract with competing shapes, colors or bright areas and place your subject in even light without deep shadows or bright streaks. Commonly referred to as Rembrandt lighting, this technique has been used by painters for centuries.  The same rules for lighting and composition apply to unposed or candid travel photography. Showing respect is a simple way to gain cooperation from your subjects so ask permission with a word, gesture, or smile and you’ll seldom be refused.  Always play the role of amateur anthropologist in sensing people’s concerns and remember that big cameras are intimidating. A respectful, genuine interest on your part will go a long way towards overcoming your subject’s concerns.

Butchart GardensCourtesy of Gary Crallé

Scenery

A scene can be many things - a seascape, a rugged mountain range, a glittering urban street - but the single most important strategy for capturing the perfect shot is always the same: timing.  Radiant moments often happen closest to dawn and dusk so working with nature’s atmospheric effects earlier and later in the day will add depth and mood to your pictures. I try to avoid shooting scenery in bright but disappointingly flat light between 10 am and 2 pm, unless I have no choice. Composition is the other key factor in creating successful landscape pictures. The well-known Rule of Thirds is a classic: mentally divide your picture into three spaces, vertically and horizontally, placing important elements off-center and preferably in an upper or lower third of the scene.  Be sure to pay attention to the lines of direction — physical or psychological — within your frame as they bring attention to the main subject either directly or indirectly.

Church of the Holy SepulchreCourtesy of Gary Crallé

Interiors

Documenting interiors is all about the atmosphere or the existing light and feel of a space. Electronic flash emits a glaring bluish light that effectively kills all of this unless tightly controlled so the best advice is to turn it off. Some cameras have a ‘Museum’ setting that defaults to recording the available light without flash.  You’ll need a high ISO (sensitivity) in dark spaces; the ‘Auto’ setting on many cameras will do this for you. For sharp pictures, brace yourself against a stationary surface when shooting. Squeeze the shutter release slowly and gently to avoid jerking the camera. A travel-size tabletop tripod is essential for long exposures.  Including a relevant object in the foreground not only adds depth to your picture but can be a comment on what a particular place is all about. Focusing on a single object close to the camera while letting the background go out of focus adds to the allure.

Gary’s Universal Rules for Photography:

• Be alert to what is around you and have your camera accessible.

• Experiment. The greatest advantage of digital imaging is infinite experimentation so try all sorts of things. Change your camera angle, lenses and subjects.

• When photographing people, ask for input because good ideas come from everyone, everywhere.

• Have a point of view. Shoot with a purpose.

• Try new technology. Devices such as Apple iPads are terrific for food photography.

Written by Gary Crallé and originally published in Dream Voyages Winter 2015 issue.

 

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