Peter Eastway writes an almost weekly newsletter from his Better Photography website (www.betterphotography.com). These are some of the more recent posts.

Photographing People You Meet While Travelling

October 15, 2023

Musician, Khiva, UzbekistanMusician, Khiva, Uzbekistan

Musician, Khiva, Uzbekistan. Photographing people who are performing for you solves the basic problem of permission when travelling.
Fujifilm X-H2, 8-16mm, f3.6 @ 1/25 second, ISO 3200

Perhaps the best aspect of travel with a camera is photographing the people you see and meet. Different faces, different clothing, different customs – there is a wealth of material for us to capture.

When it comes to photographing people, there are many traditions we can follow. We all know about Henri Cartier-Bresson and how he photographed as a silent observer. Richard Avedon used a more formal approach, inviting his subjects to pose on an improvised set. There's no right or wrong, as long as we are respectful.

My suggestion is to consider how you would feel if you were at home, going for a run or to pick up a coffee, and you saw a tourist sneaking a few photos of you with their phone (or camera). Or you caught someone across the road with a telephoto lens photographing you as you put out the rubbish. Even if the tourist walked up and started talking to you, how would you feel if they then asked if they could take your photograph? Yet this is exactly what most travel photographers do on a regular basis and all I can do is thank the world's population for being so (generally) very accommodating!

So, what should we do? I think the answer is to play it by ear. There will be occasions when life is busy and you can take candid photographs without being noticed. We all have our special techniques for pretending not to be taking a photograph, or shooting from the hip as we walk by. Then there will be other situations where our presence is quite obvious and our subjects not so tolerant – are we better off putting our cameras away and just enjoying the experience.

We can also smile and ask permission to take a photograph. The answer can depend on how you build up to your request. How would you react if someone walked up to you in the street and asked to take your photograph? Compare this with someone asking you for directions, having a conversation and then asking you? And the fact you can't speak their language can often be a benefit as facial expressions and gestures can communicate all that is needed.

We don't have to photograph every person we meet. We don't have to photograph every great character we see, just because we think they would make a great photograph. There will always be other great portraits around the corner.

 


Shooting At Night At Key Travel Locations

October 10, 2023

Khiva, UzbekistanKhiva, UzbekistanPhotographed just as light was discernible on the eastern horizon.

Khiva, Uzbekistan. Photographed just as light was discernible on the eastern horizon.
Fujifilm X-H2, 8-16mm lens, f2.8 @ 1/15 second, ISO 3200, no tripod.

With so many people travelling and taking photos with their phones, it can be a struggle to create something that is different about the locations you visit. And while phones are now incredibly good at taking photographs in very low light, shooting at night remains one way to be noticed, simply because most travel photos are still taken in the day (and the preference is with bright blue skies).

The main challenge for shooting at night is avoiding large expanses of black – either the sky or shadow areas. Many photographs have wonderful information along the horizon line (e.g. a city skyline), but above and below are often without purpose. One suggestion is to crop out unwanted black areas. Note, I'm not suggesting you remove all the blacks as we definitely want our viewers to know the photo is taken at night.

With this in mind, look for the light sources in the foreground. If shooting a skyline full of colour, put a courtyard or an old car or something in the foreground, just as you would when shooting in daylight.

Another solution is to cheat, just a little. Rather than shooting in the dead of night, shoot either an hour or so after sunset and an hour or so before sunrise. To the eye, the sky can look black, but to our cameras it can be recorded as a wonderfully deep blue.

If you have a lot of sky, clouds can assist. And if your travel destination is experiencing inclement weather, shooting at night is a great solution because invariably the night lights are reflected on wet roads and puddles.

Do you need a tripod? Modern phones allow you to hand-hold relatively long exposures with image stabilisation and high ISO settings. Modern cameras do the same and so you can probably shoot without a tripod. However, if you are wanting to make a print or feature the photo in a book, then a lower ISO setting will give you a superior technical result, or perhaps you'd be happy with the wonderful noise reduction algorithms now available in Lightroom and Topaz. The choice is yours!

 


Shooting In The Rain For Travel Photographers

October 01, 2023

Shepherd, Issyk Kul, KyrgyzstanShepherd, Issyk Kul, Kyrgyzstan

Shepherd, Issyk Kul, Kyrgyzstan
Fujifilm X-H2, Fujinon XF8-16mmF2.8 R LM WR, f5.6 @ 1/125 second, ISO 160

When travelling, we usually desire good weather, but why? Travel brochures are full of sunny days, blue sky and a few white, puffy clouds, so perhaps our expectations begin here, but after a while, this weather in all our photos becomes either repetitive or boring. Rainy days provide different opportunities. If our intention is to return from a trip with photos that make people notice, then perhaps a rainy day portrait or a landscape under stormy clouds is the way to go?

The thing I keep reminding myself is that rainy days don't necessarily rain all the time. There are intervals when the rain stops and the environment looks clean and shiny. And the periods before and after rain often have great light, but since you don't know when this is going to happen (well, not exactly, but an app like Windy gives remarkably good weather forecasts), it's best to walk out with your camera whether it's raining or not.

When travelling, I always pack both a rain jacket and rain overpants. And while modern cameras are moisture resistant, I usually remember to include a rain cover of some description for my camera (even if it's the shower cap from the last hotel room).

In terms of processing my files, I find two approaches are helpful. First, I go for less overall contrast, opening up the shadows. In heavy rain you're not going to have much contrast anyway. Second, I will push the colour saturation slider a little harder, being sure to have an appropriate white balance setting to begin with. It's true a rainy day photo might not have the crowd-pleasing impact of a late afternoon sunset, but as part of your travel narrative, they can realliy give your portfolio a lift.

 


File Naming for Travel Photography

September 24, 2023

Kaindy Lake, KazakhstanKaindy Lake, Kazakhstan

Kaindy Lake, Kazakhstan
Fujifilm X-H2, XF56mmF1.2 R WR, f11 @ 1/12 second, ISO 125

Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of digital photography is the way our photographs are named – a faceless, emotionless, camera-generated filename which increments numerically, so that one filename looks much the same as another.

Most photographers rename important photographs to something more recognisable and meaningful. Many photographers rename all their files as part of the import process – as the files are transferred from your memory card to your computer, the photos are given a new file name.

For travel photography, what name do you use? You can be in one location for a few days, or at several locations in a single day. As you ingest your photos, you can ingest all the images together with one filename, ingest your photos location by location, or subject by subject with different filenames, or rename groups of photographs afterwards. There's no right or wrong way, but for me, I like things to be simple.

My approach is based on my overall filing system. I don't use Lightroom to create an overall catalogue of all my images – I'm too lazy to apply keywords etc. Rather I rely on my memory – and perhaps that will be a problem in the future!

Each year, I have a folder. Inside that folder are three folders – Jobs, Work and Projects. The Jobs folder holds all my raw files – and only the raw files. Inside the Jobs folder, I have a sub-folder for every 'job'. So, if I photograph the family gathering at Easter, that's a job. If I visit Kazakhstan, that's another job. The Kazakhstan folder will be named 230919-Kazakhstan.

Inside these job folders, there might be no need for sub-folders (the family at Easter), but for travel locations, I create one or two folders for each day. For instance, when in Kazakhstan, we visited the Assy Plateau, so I created a folder 230924-AssyPlateau. Then, when transferring the images into that folder, I renamed them Assy-0001, Assy-0002 etc. The numbers increment. The file name is more meaningful – for me.

In fact, for a travel job, I increment the file number for the entire trip, so the files I imported were actually Assy-1755, Assy-1756 – because I had already imported 1754 photos from earlier days on the same trip.

If this makes sense, use it! If not, look around for other options that make sense to you - so you don't end up with folders and folders or meaningless filenames.

 


Back-Up Safety Processes For Travel Photographers

September 17, 2023

Sheep at MiddlehurstSheep at Middlehurst

Sheep at Middlehurst. Yes, I obviously have a problem with sheep - in this case, I have processed the image with additional sharpening to bring out the texture and detail in the fleeces. Still doesn't translate quite as required for web viewing. Fujifilm X-H2, 150-600mm, 1/500 second @ f8, ISO 1600.

In many ways, backing up our images and safe shooting practices should be much the same whether we're travelling or shooting a project at home. The question becomes, what can you afford to lose? And given how rarely we lose our images, do we restrict other opportunities so we are without risk? Everyone will have their own views on this.

Let's begin with the camera and your storage cards. If you have a two card camera, you can set it to capture a copy of every photograph to both cards, so if one card fails, the image is safely stored on the other card. However, an advantage of a two card camera is expanding how many photos you can capture. The counter argument to this is that you simply buy two memory cards with greater capacity and have the best of both worlds.

Personally, I only shoot to one card at a time and the second card is sitting there for when I forget to  load a fresh card. That for me is a more likely problem than storage failure. (Unless I'm shooting a wedding - then I back up as I go! I'm not usually shooting weddings when i travel!)

However, if you have a large capacity card and it fails, you risk losing a lot of images. But when I'm travelling, I don't want a box of memory cards I can potentially lose. My approach is to download the shoots every evening onto my laptop and a separate back-up drive. I don't delete them from the memory card (assuming I have sufficient cards for the trip). So, at the end of each day, I have three copies of my photos.

Eventually, my memory card fills up, so I change cards. I usually have sufficient cards so I won't need to delete photos at any time, the exception being when shooting aerials and wildlife. So, if I do have to re-use a memory card, I will use a second back-up drive so I still have three copies of every file.

I'm sure this process could be strengthened further, but to date (touch wood) it has served me very well. And when I look back to the days when we shot Kodachrome film and posted it back to Melbourne for processing, and then Kodak posted it to your home, how much safer am I already!

 


Processing & Football

August 27, 2023

Shark Bay, 2023Shark Bay, 2023

Shark Bay, 2023
Phase One XF 150MP, 110mm lens, 1/2000 second @ f4, ISO 100

How much time do you spend editing photographs? I'm going to guess not enough! But how much is enough?

Over the last fortnight, I've been working through the Shark Bay photographs taken earlier this year on our workshop (which, by the way, is being repeated next year if you're interested). While I haven't photographed Shark Bay as many times as my partner in crime, Tony Hewitt, I've probably clocked up 30, maybe 40 hours in the air above one of the most amazing aerial locations in the world.

So, what has this to do with editing? Although from year to year the Shark Bay aerials have a degree of similarity to them, the time of day, the tides, the wind and the clouds all conspire to ensure that every flight you discover something new. However, there's another ingredient to consider: me - or you! The other ingredient is the photographer and how he or she approaches the photograph in post-production - and hence the need to spend time editing your photographs.

While I love reviewing my work on location (usually in the evening with a glass of red wine not too far away), I often find that a subsequent review of the shoot a few months later reveals forgotten or unnoticed gems. The image with this newsletter is one I consider to be a bit of a gem and I'm very happy with it!

So, now the honesty bit: when and how do I find the time to edit a shoot? Like many men my age, I enjoy sitting in front of the box and watching sport, whether it's cricket, cycling, surfing or football. However, there's a lot of downtime in these sports and I find it very hard to sit still with nothing else to do, so I grab my laptop and open up either Lightroom or Capture One and review my work.

Two points of clarity. If you're a woman who loves sport, you're not excluded, but my wife has very little interest in sport and prefers to read a book or potter in the garden. However, we both happily read and edit when watching Netflix as well (as long as it's not a foreign language movie which requires you to read the subtitles)! There are time management opportunities for all of us.

The second point is that the work I do on my laptop remains 'preliminary'. As much as I love Capture One and Lightroom, the result on the laptop is just a step in the process. The way I've taught myself to edit brings me back to Photoshop and the Auto Curves dialog. Invariably I export my images as 16-bit TIFFs and do the final colour and contrast tweak on my EIZO monitor, not the spectacularly colourful and contrasty MacBook Pro! 

Hopefully Manly isn't going to lose this afternoon after being so far ahead, but who knows!

 

 


Useful Filters For Travel Photography

August 20, 2023

Ragged Ranges, KununurraRagged Ranges, Kununurra

Ragged Ranges, Kununurra
Phase One XF 150MP, 110mm Schneider lens, f2.8 @ 1/2000 second, ISO 50                       

My approach to travel photography is to keep things simple. Not using filters means I can react quickly (not fumble around looking for a filter) and I can also adjust my images in post-production, so I don’t find myself needing much in the way of filters for travel photography.

Having said that, a UV or Skylight filter can be helpful as a protective filter. Both the UV and Skylight filters make next to no difference to your exposures and were more a solution for film photographers wanting to avoid too much blue in their exposures. Many photographers would leave them on their lenses permanently and they have become a de facto filter which the camera store will sell you when purchasing a new lens. So, while I would suggest they won’t improve your exposures, the protective attributes are certainly worthwhile as it’s much cheaper to replace a scratched filter than a scratched front lens element.

One filter that can do things that post-production can’t is the polarising filter. I usually take one with me on trips as it can be very useful for emphasising or reducing reflections. If you’re shooting water, a polariser can let you look below the water surface, or through a store window without reflections. I rarely use a polariser for darkening blue skies, especially not with wide-angle lenses, as the darkening effect is not uniform and you end up with uneven transition effects.

Neutral density filters, on the other hand, are useful. If you use a wide aperture lens, an ND filter can reduce the light so you can still shoot wide open in bright sunshine (normally you have to close your lens down a few stops to ensure correct exposure). And stronger ND filters can be used along with a tripod to blur the sea and clouds – so there’s always a spot for a couple of ND filters in my travel kit.

 


Do You Need Flash For Travel Photography?

August 13, 2023

Village, Tshangkha, BhutanVillage, Tshangkha, BhutanBhutan

Village, Tshangkha, Bhutan. Photographed with studio flash on location.
Phase One XF 150MP, 55mm Schneider lens, f8 @ 1/100 second, ISO 50.

You don’t need flash for travel photography! Okay, so now I’ve offended some readers, but I stand by my comment: you don’t NEED flash for travel photography, but you may choose to use it.

Modern cameras have such great ISO sensitivity that there are few places you can’t shoot without flash. There’s always enough light to capture something. Sure, at ISO 6400 you might have a little noise to deal with, but this can be satisfactorily addressed in post-production or, like me, you may actually think the noise adds to the image’s appeal.

The advantage of not using flash in a travel situation is that you don’t change the ambience with a sterile 6000K burst of blue light! If your aim is to photograph a travel environment as it is, then an on-camera flash is not going to maintain the ambience. Sure, used on low power, off camera and maybe with a colour gel, flash could fill in the shadows and retain the overall lighting, but generally speaking, the shadow slider in Lightroom etc can do much the same. Rarely do you need flash.

On the other hand, I’ve been known to travel with flash and love shooting portraits with it. Creating a formal photography session with one or two flash units and using the locals as subjects is great fun and creates images with a difference. You can also use flash in daylight, underexposing the background and emphasising your subject, but whether this is the best way to truly capture a travel location is up for debate.

What I like most about not shooting flash when travelling is that it’s one less piece of equipment to carry and recharge! And for my approach to travel photography, I can get by without it.

Join Peter Eastway & David Oliver for their next trip to Amazing Bhutan and Ladakh in 2024, click here for details.


What Are The Best Camera Settings For Travel Photography?

August 06, 2023

Inland Kaikoura in Clouds 2Inland Kaikoura in Clouds 2

Middlehurst In The Mists, 2023
Fujifilm X-H2 XF 55-200mm, f9 @ 1/40 second, ISO 125

The best camera settings for travel photography are the ones that get the best shot, so let's make this question easier by defining 'travel photography' as being ready for any eventuality while on the street or on the road.

Theoretically, a fully automatic exposure setting is the one to use because the camera takes care of everything. However, consider the aperture and shutter speed. If your subject requires more or less depth-of-field, you may choose to use aperture priority so you can control the depth-of-field. Similarly, shutter priority would be useful to ensure you have a fast enough shutter speed, but usually you can control this with the Auto ISO setting as well. So, thinking it through, aperture priority with an Auto ISO setting using a minimum shutter speed might give you the best of all worlds – and is certainly how I shoot most of my travel.

Photographers also ask about the metering mode and I find the matrix or multiple area modes are superior for travel, compared to centre-weighted average or spot metering, especially when you're keeping an eye on the histogram. Things happen quickly with travel, so I have my exposure compensation set to -0.67EV (minus two thirds) as I would prefer to deal with dark shadows than burnt-out highlights. This works well for me most of the time.

For focusing, I'd set continuous autofocus for moving subjects (or a moving photographer), with a wide-area or subject-based focus setting, depending on my subject. Face-recognition is great, as long as the AF is recognising the right face in a crowded situation. However, maybe I'm better working with a wide-angle lens and an aperture with more depth-of-field to get the shot?

And while I probably have my camera set to single frame advance, when shooting from the hip I'm happy to hose down my subject at 10 or 20 frames per second, to compensate for the volatile situation and the fact I'm framing blind. I think a lot of photographers take too few exposures and expect to get a winner. My observations of great studio photographers is that they took a lot of photos in a controlled situation to get one right, so I wonder why some of us think we can just take one or two shots in a completely uncontrolled situation and have high expectations! Take lots of photos!

 


What Is The Best Camera Bag For Travel Photography?

July 30, 2023

Backlit tree, Tones Paddock, MiddlehurstBacklit tree, Tones Paddock, Middlehurst

Backlit tree, Tones Paddock, Middlehurst
Fujifilm X-H2, XF 55-200mm lens, f7.1 @ 1/75 second, ISO 125
Minor Generative AI on left and right edges to extend the frame - is this what will happen in the future?

Is there such a thing as a perfect camera bag for travel photography? The type of photography you're doing while travelling could have a big impact – the bags needed for Antarctica are quite different to those when taking a tour around Bhutan. So, let's discuss a general purpose bag for general purpose travel photography.

My preference is for a backpack design, mainly because it keeps the weight evenly distributed across my body. I have too many old friends who after a lifetime of professional photography with a camera bag slung over one shoulder are suffering the consequences! Of course, I'll probably suffer different consequences (when I get old), but I find a backpack is the most comfortable design – and comfort when travelling is very important, especially if you're out and about all day for several weeks on end.

A downside of the backpack design can mean you have to take the backpack off and put it down to change lenses or swap cameras. In a crowded market environment, this might not be easy, while a camera bag slung over the shoulder would make lens changing much simpler. On the other hand, using a one or two camera strap (like those from Black Rapid) can solve your camera access issues, while some backpack designs can be swung around your waist to give access without having to take them off your body (e.g. MindShift BackLight series from Think Tank).

One thing you shouldn't do is take the largest bag you can find and put in as much gear as you have. A lighter camera bag will keep you shooting longer and let's face it, you will hardly use half the gear in a crowded camera bag anyway (although you're sure to miss the lenses you leave out at some stage). And when packing your camera bag, leave enough room so you can put away your gear no matter which lenses are attached to the camera body. If you have to change lenses to pack your gear away, your camera bag is too small – certainly for travel.

 

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