Most of us have been there, that wonderful travel destination and the light is bad. All those pre-visulations of wonderful photos you planned to capture go right out the door. This happened to me a couple of weeks ago on a day trip to Olympic National Park. Tanya, Nahla and I headed out to Kalaloch for a day on the beach. (Aside for dog owners: Kalaloch is a great place to take your dog. Most national parks, and Olympic National Park is no exception, do not allow dogs outside of campgrounds or parking lots, let alone on trails. We got scolded by a ranger once for having our dog on a snowbank at the edge of a parking lot at Mount Rainier National Park. But, Ruby Beach and the other beaches at Kalaloch are a different story. Leashed dogs are allowed on the beaches. It is great!)
If the weather is nice, the beaches at Kalaloch are a great place for a bit of photography. But the weather on the coast can be unpredictable, so I had a backup plan. If it was overcast on the coast, we’d go to the Hoh rainforest (Nahla would have to stay in the car, but such is the sacrifice of a photographer’s dog). Because of the huge contrast in the rainforest on sunny days, photography there is best on overcast days (and even better with a little rain making everything wet).
As it turned out, it was overcast on the beach. We took a nice walk, and Nahla took a dip in the waves, but the camera stayed in the bag. So we headed over to the Hoh, about a 45-minute drive from Kalaloch. Unfortunately for my photography, once we got away from the coast, the weather turned mostly sunny. And indeed, the contrast in the rainforest was extreme (5 stops or more). My visions of wonderful shots of green moss-draped trees was not to be fulfilled.
Instead, I worked mostly on detail shots, taking what the conditions allowed. Looking for small scenes that were mostly in shadow, or mostly in sunshine, so that contrast was less of an issue. Or I looked for backlit scenes, where the sunlight provided unique views for the rainforest. I can’t say I came away with any prize winners, but I was happy with a few of the results posted below.
I still had hope for a great shot. I figured the clouds would break along the coast, and a good sunset was possible. We drove back to Kalaloch and ate dinner (during which was probably the best light of the day) and afterward drove to Ruby Beach for sunset. As it turned out, the sunset was mostly a dud, and though I took a lot of frames, I’m not that pleased with them.
So once again, I took what was offered. In this case, shooting after sunset in the blue hour. The featured photo above was shot perhaps half an hour after sunset and is my favorite of the day.
The adventure of travel photography is that you never know exactly what you will get. When conditions are not right, you need to be able to see beyond the obvious shots and look with images that the conditions allow. With luck, even with bad light, you will get a few keepers.
If you are like me, it is often difficult to do serious photography when traveling with your family. I wish I had a simple method to address this problem, but I don’t. If you do, please let me know! Or perhaps you don’t think this is a problem. If that is that case, please tell me why.
When traveling with Tanya, she usually requires me classify the trip as a “photograph trip” or a “non-photography trip.” On non-photography trips, I can still take my equipment, but I am expected not to disrupt any trip plans with photography. On photography trips, the world’s my oyster and I dictate when and where.
When we take a big trip, like our trip to Europe last month, they are by default non-photography trips. This is especially true when we travel with others; in this particular case, traveling with my mother-in-law and my son. One word of advice – if you want to get a lot of photography in while traveling, don’t travel with your mother-in-law.
On a photography trip, I tend to take the whole bag. But for non-photography trips, I go more minimal. I usually take my camera backpack as a carry-on in the plane, but I don’t typically carry it around when out shooting except when I’m going out by myself (see below). Even then, I take some of the gear out instead of my normal kit. I typically take my Canon 6D body with battery grip, a 28-300 mm lens, a 17-40 mm lens, about 5 or 6 memory cards, a polarizing filter, a split-neutral density filter, a Canon speedlight flash, four batteries, a battery charger, a tripod, my laptop, a card reader, and a few various accessories (lens cloth, etc.). In addition to the backpack, I also bring a Think Tank Pro digital holster as a smaller bag.
So when on a non-photography trips and heading out with the family, I go with a minimal set of equipment. I will put the 28-300mm lens on the camera, take the battery grip off, and put the camera in the holster (the camera will not fit in the holster with the battery grip on). In the pockets of the holster, which are rather small, I’ll carry a spare battery, a spare memory card, a cleaning cloth, and the polarizing filter. Sometimes, if I know I will want it, I’ll carry the 17-40mm lens in my coat pocket (no room in the camera holster). Rarely I’ll carry the tripod as well with this minimal setup. This minimal set of equipment allows me to get quality photographs without impacting the family, though I will often have to shoot at a higher ISO than I’d like due to not having the tripod (see my last post).
But my main strategy to get quality photography time is to go out without the family. This usually means going out at night after the family has retired to our lodgings for the evening or getting up extra early and going out prior to everyone else being ready for the day. This is one reason I like to stay near major attractions that might look good at night. On your recent trip, we stayed within easy walking distance of the Louvre when in Paris and near the Block of Discord in Barcelona. When going out on my own, I carry my full kit in the photo backpack and always take the tripod (even with high ISOs, it is hard to shoot at night without a tripod). The added advantage is that often there are not very many people around wandering into my frame when shooting, and even if they do, the exposures are long enough that they typically don’t show up if they keep moving.
Shooting at night also has the added advantage of making the sky easier to deal with. When doing travel photography, you typically don’t have a lot of time at any one destination. So you can’t necessarily wait for those “good” sky days. Often the sky is a mass of clouds without any redeeming detail, and if you place it in your composition, it sits there like a huge blown-out white blob. Not to mention the contrast problem it creates with the foreground and your image’s subject. Not a problem at night. At worst, clouds pick up scattered lights from the city and take on an orange glow, which is easy to fix in processing.
The images accompanying this post are from two nights I went out by myself, once in Paris and the second in Barcelona. Unlike my previous post, these images were all taken with an ISO of 100 or 200 while using a tripod. The featured image at the top of the post is of the courtyard of the Louvre.
My recent trip to Europe confirmed something I already knew, travel photographers need to embrace high ISOs. Sure I took my tripod along on the trip, and I used it frequently. But mostly when outside buildings. Most museums and other indoor attractions prohibit tripods, often monopods, and even selfie-sticks (not that I have one – I use my tripod or monopod instead). There are a few exceptions, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for one (see my previous blog about tripods in New York), but more and more it seems tripods are a no-no (and don’t even get me started on places that prohibit photography entirely, where people left and right are using their cell phones to take photos (often with flash), but if I get my DSLR out, I get a stern warning).
When planning a trip, I usually try to research whether tripods are allowed in various attractions I want to visit, but in this case, I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare and failed to do the research. Further, traveling with my mother-in-law, I didn’t figure I’d have a lot of photography time (and I was right). But even if you have time to do such research, it is often had to find rules related to tripods on the internet, and worse, sometimes the information is either wrong or incorrectly enforced at the attraction. For my recent trip, I just assumed tripods weren’t allowed in any indoor attraction I visited – an assumption that was usually confirmed by signs at the various attractions.
There is another consideration. I can’t even imagine trying to set up a tripod in Sainte Chapelle in Paris (which doesn’t allow tripods; the featured image above, by the way, is Sainte Chapelle taken at ISO 6400, f/5, 1/30 sec), there was barely room to stand. Even if tripods are allowed, due to the number of people visiting, it is often impractical to use them. For example, in Seattle, tripods are allowed at Pike Place Market and in the Seattle Aquarium, but due to crowds, can be hard to use.
Of course there is the final consideration about just carrying it around. There were places on my recent trip where I could have used a tripod, but didn’t have it with me because I didn’t want to lug it around with me. Sometimes it was because I was visiting another attraction in the same day that didn’t allow tripods; other times it was because I was too lazy (I know, my bad).
Yes, it is best to use low ISO with long exposures and a tripod to minimize digital noise, but often that is not an option. Luckily, the high ISO capabilities of today’s digital cameras are quite good, and getting better with each generation of camera. During my recent trip, I found myself shooting at ISO 3200 and 6400 quite often. I even got up to 25,600 several times; the digital noise was horrible, but it was that or not get the shot. That’s what it came down to, getting a shot or not. You be the judge, was it worth using high ISO to get the shots accompanying this post?
Sometimes I feel like I get in a photographic rut – stuck on the same subjects, the same compositions. I need to refresh my creative, photographic juices. One way to do this is to take on a series of topics you might not otherwise and to look for new perspectives. That is the motivation behind a photographic scavenger hunt – shoot a list of topics in a limited amount of time trying to come up with fresh new interpretations. I have blogged about scavenger hunts before (here and here), and that is my subject again today.
Yesterday I organized a scavenger hunt along the Gig Harbor waterfront for my two local photography club: Sound Exposure and the Tacoma Mountaineers. I’ve organized a scavenger hunt for one or the other of these groups for about four years now. I love doing scavenger hunts because they are a great learning tool for photographers of all skill levels. They force a photography to challenge themselves, to look beyond what they normally photography.
If you are in a club doesn’t have a scavenger hunt, you may want to suggest one. They are really a fun learning experience. But you don’t have to be in a club to do a scavenger hunt. You can do one all by yourself or with a couple of friends. First pick a place and time. Your time should be limited to about 4 hours or less – long enough to shoot all your subjects, but short enough to put a bit or pressure on yourself to get “good” shots of all the subjects. Develop a list of 20 to 24 subjects, and go shoot!
Here’s a list of subjects from the scavenger hunt I ran yesterday. You could apply most of these to your own scavenger hunt.
- Odd Number
- Break the Rule of Thirds
- Stop Action
- the “Perfect” Photograph
- Photographer’s Choice
- Self Portrait
Although I didn’t participate in the scavenger hunt because I was the organizer, I did take a few photos to help illustrate for this post. If you want more some more advise on how to run and organize a scavenger hunt, send me an email.
Go ahead – challenge yourself and do a scavenger hunt. Have fun!!!
One of the challenges of shooting in RAW format is deciding what and how much processing to do. (Tangent – why is RAW capitalized? It is not an acronym such as JPEG or TIFF. It simply means unprocessed. In Wikipedia, it isn’t capitalized. But somehow, it doesn’t look right to me. I’m usually a stickler for correct writing – just ask anyone at my day job where I edit everyone’s reports; they may even call me a grammar nazi – but leaving it uncapitalized when every other file format is capitalized seem wrong. So grammar nazi or not, I’m capitalizing it.) When shooting in JPEG mode, the camera does the processing for you. You can always tweak it later, but the majority of the work is done. With RAW, you should do the heavy lifting and process the image yourself, at least if the default processing by your RAW converter program (Lightroom in my case) doesn’t do a good job. And it is rare when I find I can’t do a better job processing than the default.
But the question remains, what to do and how much? Some might answer, just enough so that it looks like it did in real life. But what is that? Take, for example, the images presented here. These are shots of water seeping out of sandstone near Moab, Utah. I’ve included both my processed versions and the original RAW versions from Lightroom with zeroed developing (with all the sliders set to zero – realize, however, there still is some processing involved, it is impossible to present true RAW images, some processing must occur to translate the images into something humans can view). I took these images in the shade on a sunny, blue-skied morning. So these were naturally lit by a broad, blue sky, which cast a rather flat, blue light onto the sandstone. Does that flat, blue light truly show what I saw, or do my processed versions show what I saw? The answer is up to me as the maker and you as the viewer. Did I go too far?
Well, what did I do to turn the RAW images into the finished images? They were first processed in Lightroom, correcting for lens distortion and chromatic aberration. Then I set the white point and the black point to add contrast, took a little off the exposure, and adjusted the highlights and shadows to bring detail into the blacks and whites. I added some clarity to add a bit of sharpness and some vibrance to add saturation. I then adjusted the color temperature, increasing it to remove the blue tint. I then added a radial filter to lighten the water patterns and darken the rest. And finally, made minor changes to many of these adjustments to fine tune them. I then took the images to Photoshop, performed Tony Kuyper’s triple play to add punch to the highlights and shadows, lighten up the orangy-browny vegetation on top, and added a “smart glow” to punch up the color a bit. In total, it took about 10 minutes each to do all this work.
I’d think the most controversial of these changes would be the changes to the color, in particular adding vibrance and the smart glow. The rest is pretty standard old-school darkroom photography made digital (except perhaps the Kuyper triple play, that doesn’t really change the images that much). The problem here is deciding what is too much in terms of the color. Because the subjects were in shadow, it is difficult to determine what the colors would look like in the sunshine. And of course, what sunshine are we talking about? Sun at noon? Sun at sunset?
I guess the answer is it depends. Did I take it too far? I don’t think so; you may. But these are close to what I wanted to show when I took the images. So for me, the answer is no; I processed them as I thought proper. For you the answer may be different. If you think so, let me know your thoughts.