“If your photographs are not good enough, you are not close enough.” – Robert Capa
A famous anecdote floating in photographer’s circles goes somewhat like this. Once a photographer was invited to a friend’s place for dinner. During the regular chit-chat, the photographer set out to display his prized images to his hosts. The Hostess was quite impressed and quipped: “You take some really good pictures. You must have really good cameras and lenses.” The photographer was astounded by the comment, but didn’t utter a word. After dinner was served, he grabbed his opportunity, and remarked: “You cook really good food. You must have some really great utensils.”
The moral of the story could be extended a little further. You might have the best equipment in the world and could have the best technique, but if you don’t see photographically, you don’t get good pictures. And this is further complicated by the fact that you have one or more active kids who have their own agenda for the family vacation – how do you get the time, patience and the persistence to see, observe, plan and photograph while traveling with kids?
The key to taking good pictures when traveling with kids, is to go for the low hanging fruit.
Here are our Top 5 Tips on Photography when Traveling with Kids. Read them. Memorize them. Use them. You will thank us.
First, internalize the rules of composition and the photography techniques outlined below. Then, as with any form of art, study the work of some good photographers who have visited that location to get a feel of how they composed. Then, choose times with good light to visit these locations, or use one of our quick tips for good photography.
Rules of Photography Composition
After reading through countless books on the topic of composition and photography techniques from the incredibly well stocked San Jose public library, we figured that most books were platforms for photographers to publish their work and display it to a larger photography market. Most books have the same information about tips and techniques, repeated ad nauseam. That is not to say that photography books are worthless. Pick works by good photographers and get impressed and influenced. Here is our list to inspire you to travel and photograph. To internalize some of the basic rules and techniques, we ended up compiling the material we read into the following few simple rules of thumbs that we could remember –
- The most important rule of composition: Frame your image tightly, keep out the extraneous garbage.
Ask yourself: What are you really photographing? Are you photographing the flower or the flower plus the soil below it, plus the dried up leaves around it, etc. Never let extraneous elements distract the viewer from what you want to portray. Crop your image post-exposure even if you couldn’t frame it properly while taking the shot. Like good literature, photographs should be concise and to the point. This rule also applies to situations where you should selectively focus on only the most important parts of the image, while blurring out the extraneous elements. This is usually not possible with the very small apertures and sensors of a Point and Shoot camera.
- Framing: First, the oft-mentioned Rule of Thirds. Try to keep the main subject off center (except in closeups). Try to divide the image into three sections horizontally and three vertically, and place your main elements within one of the thirds. A vertical format enhances height, hence use it to shoot canyons, cliffs. A horizontal enhances width, so shoot large expanse of water, prairies, deserts, with it. And as with every rule in photography – feel free to break these as you please.
- Light: An overcast day is best for colors, so don’t get disappointed. Closeups in Nature, greenery, flowers image very well. Try not to take images with a lot of sky. Portraits are best in soft indirect light from a window, through a diffuser, or with indirect flash bounced off a ceiling, wall. Conversely, a fully overcast and an absolutely clear sky are boring for landscapes. A few clouds in the sky are the most photogenic, giving a sense of scale and depth to your images. Sunsets and Sunrises come out well in landscapes especially with HDR, while Blue Hour throws a punch into any cityscape.
Rules on Photography Technique
- Exposure: Remember to meter tonally gray areas, use exposure lock, recompose, and shoot. The camera always tries to make the scene neutral (18%) gray. Bits are cheap – so I would recommend setting your camera to multi-exposure with various levels of exposure compensation (I have mine set to 3 exposures of 05. – 1.0 stop each). This kills two birds with one stone – you get an exposure that is optimum, plus a set of three images that can be used to create HDRs.
- Format: Of course RAW. Never JPEG. Why compress in this age of Terabytes and free online storage options and lose precious image detail. There have been countless times over the years when we have gone back and fixed an older image dramatically in radically improving editing software just because the original was in RAW. Also, when you do decide to shoot RAW, always overexpose very so slightly (I set mine to +1/3). The reasons are detailed here, but in summary, slightly overexposed RAW images have much more information in them than correctly exposed or slightly underexposed images, so you can edit them better. This is only true for RAW and not for JPEG.
- Camera Shake: As a rule of thumb, a shutter speed slower than (1/FocalLengthOfLens) leads to camera shake showing up in your image. For example, with a 100mm lens, you should use a tripod for shutter speeds of 1/125 or slower. For a brilliant travel tripod and the advantages of having one, check out the very useful, versatile and lightweight table top tripods. For every road trip I carry my carbon fiber Induro, but for every flight-based travel, I use the $35 Oben table-top with amazing success.
- Camera Accessories: For a large range in contrast (some regions of your image in deep shadow, while the others in bright sunlight), use a neutral graduated density filter to lower the brightness of the sky for a uniform tone. This problem is more severe in digital images using JPEG compression where the brighter areas can wash out any detail if these filters are not used. But most filters can be simulated in software to a reasonable degree. Except – a polarizer. Having a polarizer with you is a must to cut down on glare from glass, deepening the color of vegetation or the sky, or to cut out haze. This effect cannot be simulates to any degree of success in Photoshop.