During the first two days of our Cost Rica honeymoon, Rich and I took dozens of snapshots of friendly locals, exotic jungles, and each other, until I finally thought to ask, “Say, how many shots do we have on that roll of film, anyway?” And that’s when we discovered neither of us had remembered to put film in the camera. What can I say? Honeymooners…
Trick #1. Put film in your camera, make sure your smart phone has plenty of juice, and/or check your battery and memory card. Don’t miss the shots you traveled all that way to take. If you do, laugh it off; at least you've got a good story to tell.
Trick #2. Carry your camera everywhere. You never know when that once-in-a-lifetime shot will occur. And that leads me to Trick #3.
Trick #3. Choose a camera that’s easy to carry. I was recently at a travel photography conference where everyone was lugging around cameras that weighed more than a Thanksgiving turkey. I was so relieved when Mikkel Aaland, award winning photographer and digital pioneer, told me these days will soon be over. “Two summers ago I was on a pilgrimage to southern Tibet and I brought these,” he said, holding up a turkey-sized Nikon he used for landscapes, a little Panasonic he used for stealth shots of people and close-ups of small objects, and an iPhone he used (get this!) solely for making calls to the outside world. “Three years from now, on similar trips, I will probably just take the iPhone. Skeptical? Here's a photo shot By Andrew P. on the iPhone 6:
Trick #4. Shoot close. Closer. There! “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” said the famous Hungarian war photographer Robert Capa. Author John Steinbeck once wrote that his friend Robert Capa “could show the horror of a whole people in the face of a child.” Sometimes it’s a tiny detail, such as a red umbrella or a hand reaching for a cup, that makes an image strong and meaningful.
Trick #5. “Every photograph should tell a story,” said Robert Holmes, who just won the Travel Photographer of the Year award for the fourth time. Often a photo’s story is about the sense of surprise and delight (or horror, or bewilderment, or some other emotion) we felt upon discovering something utterly unexpected. I took the photo below moments after I walked into what seemed a modest church in Oradea, Transylvania, and was stunned by this splendor.
Trick #6. Lighting defines mood. Rosy sunsets, misty hills, or the short, sharp shadows of high noon instantly create an emotional framework. Sometimes moving around to capture light from a slightly different angle can entirely change the feeling that infuses the moment. Often, the magic just happens, as with this photo I happened to capture when out for an early morning walk with a friend in rural Spain.
Trick #7. Go ahead and chimp. Ignore all snarky remarks about “chimping,” that is, looking at your digital photos right after you take them, which usually involves staring at the screen with wide eyes, pursed lips, and incoherent hoots and mutterings reminiscent of our simian cousins. Some pros feel chimping distracts you from the next great shot, while others seem mainly to be worried about looking silly. Who cares? If you want to make sure you got the shot, go ahead and check. Just don’t let shutterbug pals snap a photo of you doing it.
Trick #8. Zoom or crop to focus on compelling details. Shooting close (see Trick #4) may make this unnecessary, but I am a big fan of the little detail or unintended portrait, and I often wind up using just one small part of an image. That’s why, for now, I’m sticking with a camera; cropped iPhone shots quickly become too grainy. Reviewing photos from a project Rich and I did a few years back in Kenya, I decided to crop this photo of the village school into a closeup of a few children, creating a much more powerful image.
Trick #9. Fool around with your photos in post-production. I'm in transition from the now-defunct iPhoto to Lightroom, which lets you crop, tweak, and correct images, even straighten out walls distorted by perspective. If/when I start shooting more with my phone, Mikkel Aaland recommends Snapseed, which gives you sophisticated photo editing capacity right on your device; WordSwag for adding text to your images, and Waterlogue, which makes photos look like watercolor paintings. A similar app, Brushstroke, lets you alter your photos to look like paintings by various artists such as Van Gogh or Warhol.
Trick #10. Put the camera down occasionally and look around. Our photos provide us with souvenirs, screensavers, and social media bragging rights. But they also offer us something that goes beyond mere mementos. Sometimes just looking at one of our photos rekindles the transcendent feeling of resonating deeply with particular people and places, those whose presence made us feel more alive and connected with the world. Those moments occur when we are fully present to the time and place around us, seeing it with our own eyes and not through the lens of a camera or phone.
In 2015 we will capture and store one trillion digital images. Turned into 4 x 6 prints and placed end to end, they would reach from the Earth to Venus and halfway back again. But don’t be daunted by those astronomical numbers; there is still plenty of opportunity to take fresh, original photos that express your unique vision of the world. “Technology has advanced so much,” Robert Holmes said recently, “now anyone with a digital camera can, by being in the right place at the right time and having a bit of luck, take a shot that rivals anything of mine.” So there you have it. Get out there and start shooting!
Unlike some of my better-organized and more practical blogger friends, I don't accept sponsorships of any kind. The products mentioned in this post are here because I thought you might find them interesting. I haven't tried every one of them, and I welcome your input and feedback.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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