The professional travel photographer speaking before us at the travel writers conference made a startling statement: “You don’t need a fancy or expensive camera to take good travel photos.”
He went on to explain how the eye is more important than the equipment.
I proved his statement during an assignment to photograph California’s Point Reyes National Seashore when my state-of-the-art digital SLR camera froze up and refused to cooperate. I pulled out my backup point-and-shoot, and what I lacked in cutting edge optics I made up for by tweaking my creative eye and carefully choosing my shooting angles, framing and location. My editor never knew the difference.
Though you may not be interested in selling travel photos, you still want to take good shots, ones you are proud to show off to fellow RVers, friends and relatives, publish on your RV travel blog, or use for holiday cards. Following are some tips that will help you accomplish this.
1. Channel Your Energies into the Features of Your Camera That Allow You to Be Creative.
To produce more than snapshots, you should understand your camera’s functions and limitations—and concentrate on its abilities. Study the manual and take plenty of practice shots utilizing all aspects of your camera’s features—spot-focus, focus-lock, fill-flash, aperture and shutter priorities, bracketing, histogram—until you can consistently produce technically perfect, properly exposed, accurately focused shots. Use a tripod, backpack, or rolled up jacket to support your camera in low-light situations and to avoid blur from camera shake at slow shutter speeds. The sharper the focus, the more punch the shot will have.
2. Compensate for Parallax to Achieve Tighter Composition.
If you are using a point-and-shoot camera, you view the scene through a different viewfinder than the one that captures the image. You must adjust for this slight offset, called parallax, or you will cut off important elements of the picture on one side and add superfluous space on the other. With practice you can make the proper adjustment. You can improve almost any shot by moving in closer, leaving out what is not relevant to the shot, like a trash can, utility wires, vehicles, etc. Shift your view until you can fill the frame—look at the corners of the frame—with exactly what you want, no more and no less.
3. Seize the Day.
On inclement weather days, capture glistening tree leaves, reflections on rain-slick streets, or a stormy sky to set the mood. Look for bright-colored objects—flags, neon lights, a yellow shirt—to include in your shot. Shoot upward from a low position to catch great billowy cloud formations and deep blue skies. Shoot during what photographers call the golden hours—early morning and late afternoon—when colors are vivid, and shadows long and dramatic. Don’t be impatient—wait for the right light.
4. Flash or Not to Flash.
Use the “fill-flash” feature in daylight (not automatic flash, which may not activate in bright light) to bring out detail in shadowy areas, yet not look like a flash photo (on most cameras you can adjust the flash intensity up or down—check your manual). Use fill flash to eliminate harsh shadows on people’s faces from overhead high-noon sunlight, and to brighten subjects that are backlit. Turn off your flash for low-light sunset shots to silhouette subjects in the foreground, or use slow-sync to capture both the foreground and the sunset.
5. Composition and Framing.
Think like an artist. To achieve an artistically pleasing composition, imagine drawing lines through your viewfinder to divide the composition into thirds both horizontally and vertically (called the “rule of thirds”) like a tic-tac-toe game. Set focus-lock on your subject (or hold the shutter release button half way down to freeze the focus point), then re-compose the shot by shifting your camera to place the subject where the lines intersect. Separate the main sections of your scene into thirds, for instance fill your frame with two-thirds land and one-third sky rather than placing the horizon through the middle. An “S” curve, such as a stream or two-lane road, draws the eye of the viewer through the scene. Don’t settle for the easy shots that everyone with a camera has taken. Shoot from different angles and locations—on top of a fallen log, in the middle of a stream, or from ground level. Look at everything in your frame, every corner, before snapping. Hurried shots seldom produce good shots. Take more time looking for the right shot than shooting it.
6. Add Depth to Your Photo with Foreground Objects.
Find shooting positions that include bright flowers, a gnarled log or footprints in the sand, in the foreground. Frame your shot with tree leaves, a window frame or a rustic stone arch. Focus on an object about one-third into your shot to get both foreground and distant objects in focus (called “depth of field”). Place foreground or framing objects to block out distractions like power lines, parking lots or clutter.
7. Shade Trees and Bright Skies—Compensate for Extreme Light Variance.
The difference between a pro and a snap-shooter is the ability to use light creatively and to handle difficult lighting situations. Your built-in light meter averages the amount of reflected light, regardless of the shadows and bright spots in your setting. Pick the important elements in your composition and alter your position or use objects to block out a bright sky or dark shadow, enabling your meter to expose correctly. Even though you may be able to see details in the shadows and clouds, your camera does not have the capability of such a wide range of light/shadow as the human eye. Try composing your photo either with all shade or all sunlight. Take several shots from different positions. Bracket your shots and compare exposures. Use the histogram to determine areas of overexposure or underexposure.
People and wildlife add action to static scenes. Study the scene, plan your composition and camera angles, and visualize where you think people should be and what they should be doing (the wildlife won’t listen to you). Then place your spouse or friends (or others if you are polite and persuasive) accordingly—or wait for the right action, like skaters, bicyclists or walkers entering your scene. Seldom have I had anyone refuse to model, or be offended if included in my shot. Position yourself to catch people moving into the scene, not out of it—faces, not backsides, toward you. Concentrate on capturing sharp, accurately exposed and correctly focused, original, lively shots that tell a story. With practice, you can do it!
Bob Difley was a full-time RVer for 17 years and a regional general manager for a national RV rental and sales company. His articles and photos have appeared in numerous publications.