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If You See a Panther Crouch, Prepare to Say “Ouch!” and Other Travel Photo Tips

“If you see a panther crouch, prepare to say “Ouch!”
“Better yet, if called by a panther, don’t anther!”

These immortal words penned by the famous poet Ogden Nash are good advice for those of you going on an animal safari in Africa. The only other words of wisdom we could add would be: “Get a telephoto lens. A LONG telephoto lens!”

Travel photos bring back memories of the faces and places you have visited. Here are 12 tips that will help you bring back better memories. For example, here is a photo of the US Capitol that was taken 25 years ago with a $40 point and shoot film camera, making the point that you can take good( or bad) pictures with ANY camera!

A view of the capital building framed with plants and trees

  1. Look like a Pro:  Cup your left hand under the lens, rest your left elbow against your chest, and thrust your leg left leg out to stabilize your body. Better yet, use a tripod!
  2. Plan the Picture: Who is the picture for? Why are you taking this picture? What is it you like about this scene or subject?  What IS the subject? You must have a plan so that the picture comes out exactly the way you want by asking these questions BEFORE you push the button! Check the background first, make sure it is not cluttered and that the image you see in your viewfinder tells the story you are trying to tell with your picture.
  3. Get Low and Close: Get in tight with your subject, use your zoom to eliminate distracting backgrounds, get in low for a better angle. For children or pets, you should always stoop down to be at their eye level, or below. Get low, get close!  Here, for example, is a photo taken may years ago of my 3-year old daughter Estela leading her 2-year old brother David on to new adventures inside the ruins of an old castle in Panama City, Panama.
  4. Shooting Wide: Make your wide angle shots more interesting by putting an element in the foreground, such as a person, a tree, a fence, a statue, a flowerbed, or any other object that separates the foreground from the background. Use a focal length of 12 to 18 mm and an F stop of F11, F16 or F22 for maximum depth of field when incorporating a foreground element in your picture. Use a circular polarizing filter on sunny days to make the blue sky bluer and the clouds whiter, and you can also use it to reduce reflections on water.
  5. Shooting long:  Use your telephoto lens (100 mm or higher) to zoom in on your subject, open up the aperture (F2 or F3.5) for a blurred background, F16 or F22 for a sharper background. For focal lengths of 200 m or longer, use a tripod to steady  camera. Avoid hand-holding  camera at shutter speeds under 1/30th of a second.
  6. Photographing People: Always put people in the shade, never in the sun, make them take off of their sunglasses so that you can see their eyes, turn them so that their left or right shoulder faces the camera and have them turn their heads to face the camera. Use a fill flash or reflector to put more light on their faces if necessary. Photograph them from the waist up, or from the shoulders up, full body shots only if they are wearing uniforms, wedding dresses, or tuxedos. If small children are in a group shot, they should be raised up to adults’ eye level.
  7. Photographing Buildings: Buildings, like people, should be shot at an angle, from a corner, not straight-on. Always photograph buildings in the sun, east-facing buildings in the morning, west- facing buildings in the afternoon, south facing buildings all day long. (North-facing buildings will always be in shade) Late afternoon or early morning “golden hour” sun or civil twilight are the best times of day for building shots. Use tree branches, archways and doorways to frame your building shots. Keep your camera perfectly straight, do not tilt back, just walk back to keep your building’s vertical lines perfectly parallel to the right and left edges of the viewfinder. For best results, use a super wide 10-20mm or an 11-16mm, or a 12-24mm lens held vertically and straight. Use a powerful strobe at maximum flash synchro speed, or HDR, to balance indoor and outdoor lighting.Red and yellow lights on the arches at the National Cathedral
  8. Depth of Field: Use your aperture setting to blur or sharpen of the background. Wide angle lenses are best for a sharp background, telephoto or macro lenses or fast 50mm lenses (F1.4 or F1.8) are best for a blurred background. Remember: “at F2 you get 2 people in focus, at F22 you get 22 people in focus!”
  9. Freeze or Blur the action: Use the shutter priority mode at 1/125th of a second or faster to stop fast – moving objects, people, or animals. Slow down the shutter to 1/4 or 1/2 a second to blur the action…Use a very slow shutter speed, one second or even slower, to make moving people or cars disappear. A #8 or #9 neutral density filter (w/tripod) permits VERY slow shutter speeds in bright light.
  10. Nighttime and Indoor shooting: Always use a tripod, set aperture at f/8, set exposure mode on Manual, adjust the shutter speed until you get the correct exposure as shown by the picture on your LCD screen. Ignore histograms and meter readings at night. Set White Balance to Auto, Tungsten/Incandescent or Fluorescent, according to light on the subject. For the most accurate results use Kelvin color temperature scale (2,500-10,000) if your camera offers that option.
  11.  Auxiliary flash: For the best people, family and event shooting, mount an external flash on to the hot shoe of your camera, angle its head with a diffuser up to the ceiling, set flash mode to Manual, dial its power down to 1/8 or 1/16, put camera on continuous shooting, and the flash will light up every image. Use cloudy white balance when on flash, for warmer skin tones.
  12. The Decisive Moment:  Wait for somebody to walk into the picture at just the right location to make your composition more interesting. A person dressed in red or yellow and located just in the right spot gives your picture a punch of color.
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