Jim’s Top Tips to Improve your Photography

TOP TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY

Oia, Santorini, Greece

Oia, Santorini, Greece

If you are serious about producing photographs on your travels that are worthy of making nice prints for wall art or to enter in photo competitions, here are some tips that will produce better results.

 

USE AND UNDERSTAND YOUR CAMERA’S  HISTOGRAM

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The histogram on the back of your camera’s LCD is one of the most useful tools the digital camera has to offer. Getting your exposure correct is now easy with the use of the histogram. The most important thing to look for is to make sure that your highlights are not “Blown Out”(clipped on the right side of the histogram). Blown out highlights will produce prints with areas that have no detail in them, nothing, just unsightly, white, blank areas.

Logarska Dolina, Slovenia. This photo is overexposed and has a very boring sky with absolutely no detail in it. There is nothing that can rescue this in post processing short of blending in a properly exposed sky from another exposure.

Logarska Dolina, Slovenia. This photo is overexposed and has a very boring sky with absolutely no detail in it. There is nothing that can rescue this in post processing short of blending in a properly exposed sky from another exposure.

 

It is less important on the shadow side(left side) of the histogram. Clipped shadows are not necessarily bad and may add interest to your image.

Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle. This photo has a lot of black area with no detail. This is fine and adds to the success of the image.

Center for Wooden Boats, Seattle. This photo has a lot of black area with no detail. This is fine and adds to the success of the image.

So the main goal here is to avoid clipping the highlights but to keep in mind another topic:

 

EXPOSE TO THE RIGHT

What this means is that when you determining your exposure by looking at the camera’s histogram it is best to add more exposure to the capture, either via a wider aperture, longer shutter speed, or higher ISO. This will move the data on the histogram to the right, watching to make sure that the highlights are not clipped. The benefits of this are that the darker areas in your photo will have less unsightly digital noise in them. The dark areas may be too bright for your liking but you can simply darken the image in post processing and that way you will still avoid the noise in those darker areas. I often see clients on our photo tours not using the histogram but making a judgment on how the photo looks on the camera’s LCD. A less than optimally exposed photo, one that may be underexposed, will usually look better on the LCD than the one that is properly exposed(more exposure with histogram data to the right).

This image may look good but notice how much data is to the left of the histogram. If you were to enlarge this file in Photoshop you would see unsightly noise.

This image may look good but notice how much data is to the left of the histogram. If you were to enlarge this file in Photoshop you would see unsightly noise.

This file has a better exposure. As you can see the data is further to the right on the histogram. You may not like the look of this photo and prefer the darker one but that is no problem in post processing. You can darken the file to look exactly like the first file and you won’t have the unsightly noise in the darker areas.

This file has a better exposure. As you can see the data is further to the right on the histogram. You may not like the look of this photo and prefer the darker one but that is no problem in post processing. You can darken the file to look exactly like the first file and you won’t have the unsightly noise in the darker areas.

Here is a good article about understanding histograms. https://photographylife.com/understanding-histograms-in-photography

 

USE A TRIPOD

Justin Reznick in the Palouse, Washington

Justin Reznick in the Palouse, Washington

I know that it is a hassle to carry and to actually take the time to set up a tripod, but in the long run you will get sharper photos. There are situations where a tripod is not needed or impractical, such as in very bright light where you can use a fast shutter speed to insure sharp photos or photojournalistic street photography where the tripod would get in the way.

But in many situations a tripod is essential such as a landscape where you want the greatest depth of field and therefore need to use a very small aperture like f16 and the resulting shutter speed will be of a long duration.

Point of the Arches, Washington State. Shot at f16 and 1/6 second. A tripod was necessary.

Point of the Arches, Washington State. Shot at f16 and 1/6 second. A tripod was necessary.

Burano, Italy. Shot at f16 with a 30 second exposure

Burano, Italy. Shot at f16 with a 30 second exposure

 

SPEND THE EXTRA MONEY ON A GOOD QUALITY ZOOM LENS

I am asked frequently about camera equipment. If you want to make the leap to a good digital SLR or mirrorless camera the choice of your first, general purpose zoom will have a good deal of impact on the quality of your photos. You will often see a camera/lens package with what we call a “Kit Lens”. My advice is to buy the body with a better quality lens than the “Kit Lens”. Your photos will most likely be sharper, have less distortion and less chromatic aberration. This is not always the case as some “Kit Lenses” will do a fine job. Before you purchase I suggest that you read as many reviews as possible. I like the reviews on Fred Miranda and on B&H.

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DO RESEARCH BEFORE YOUR TRAVELS BY LOOKING AT SITES LIKE 500PX.

You might be heading to Tuscany to seek out some of those stellar images that we capture on our photo tours.  Instead of just spending time roaming around looking for photo ops.(of course this can be fun if you have the time), check out sites like 500px or Google your subject and click on the “Image” tab. This can provide inspiration on subjects that you want to seek out, different angles and perspectives of those subjects, and can sometimes help in finding the locations.

A search on 500px for photos of Tuscany.

A search on 500px for photos of Tuscany.

 

A search on Google for photos of Tuscany.

A search on Google for photos of Tuscany.

 

TAKE YOUR CAMERA EVERYWHERE

It is often tempting to leave the camera in the car or hotel room, especially if you are tired of lugging the dead weight around or the weather is bad. I have got some of my best shots during or just after bad weather conditions or in very unexpected locations.

Lake Bled, Slovenia. While on a walk in pouring rain I put on my raingear and brought my camera and tripod. Thirty minutes into the walk the rain stopped and the sky opened up to reveal this wonderful Blue Light scene.

Lake Bled, Slovenia. While on a walk in pouring rain I put on my raingear and brought my camera and tripod. Thirty minutes into the walk the rain stopped and the sky opened up to reveal this wonderful Blue Light scene.

 

Queretaro, Mexico. I was led across this courtyard by a priest who was pointing out the way to the bathrooms.  I was lucky to have my camera gear with me to capture this composition.

Queretaro, Mexico. I was led across this courtyard by a priest who was pointing out the way to the bathrooms. I was lucky to have my camera gear with me to capture this composition.

 

USE A POLARIZING FILTER TO REDUCE GLARE, SATURATE COLORS AND DARKEN BLUE SKY

If you are going to carry one filter, the polarizer is the one. This filter reduces glare, saturates colors and darkens blue sky as well as slowing your shutter speed by almost two stops that can be handy for capturing blur in your photos. Be careful when using it on cloudless, blue sky as it can cause unsightly, uneven polarization, especially with wide-angle lenses. For the blue darkening effect to work the sun must be roughly 90 degrees to the subject.

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia. Using a polarizer for this scene reduced the glare on the boardwalk, reduced the glare in the green foliage and slowed the shutter speed down to 2 seconds to give the water the blurry effect.

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia. Using a polarizer for this scene reduced the glare on the boardwalk, reduced the glare in the green foliage and slowed the shutter speed down to 2 seconds to give the water the blurry effect.

Val d’ Orcia, Tuscany, Italy. The sun was at the perfect angle to darken the blue sky. By rotating the filter you can experience different degrees of the effect. Sometimes you may have to turn the volume down.

Val d’ Orcia, Tuscany, Italy. The sun was at the perfect angle to darken the blue sky. By rotating the filter you can experience different degrees of the effect. Sometimes you may have to turn the volume down.

 

USE A NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTER TO CONVEY MOVEMENT IN YOUR PHOTOS WITH MOVING WATER AND CLOUDS.

I am fairly new to using nd filters but now I don’t travel without them. I like to carry a 10 and 6 stop neutral density filter.

Dolomites, Italy. I was able to get this great effect of the moving clouds by using a 10 stop neutral density filter. It was 10 in the morning and quite bright out. With the use of this filter and a polarizer, I was able to slow my shutter speed down to 25 seconds.

Dolomites, Italy. I was able to get this great effect of the moving clouds by using a 10 stop neutral density filter. It was 10 in the morning and quite bright out. With the use of this filter and a polarizer, I was able to slow my shutter speed down to 25 seconds.

 

These are just a few tips to improve your photographic results. To practice these and other techniques you can join us on a European Photography Tour. We still have a few spaces in each tour offering except the Italian Alps tour.

 

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