Peter Eastway writes an almost weekly newsletter from his Better Photography website (www.betterphotography.com). These are some of the more recent posts.
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!
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.
Looking down the river at Middlehurst
Phase One XF 150MP, 80mm Schneider Krueznach, f2.8 @ 1/2000 second, ISO 50
Many if not most mirrorless cameras have a separate button next to the shutter release to record video. It makes it incredibly easy to shoot both stills and video in quick succession. And sometimes video records an event or location more appropriately than a still image, so why not?
However, shooting both stills and video creates a compromise. When I photographed a whale swimming around our ship in Antarctica, I shot both stills and video. The silvery body just below the surface of the water looked fantastic as a still, while the swish of the tail breaking the water as the whale dived was best recorded with video. However, there were times when I was shooting video that I wished I was able to capture a still, and vice versa. Sure, you can take a video frame and turn it into a still, but the quality is probably not going to match a still. Do you need all that quality? Possibly not, because if your stills are destined for a travel album, a video still is probably quite good enough.
As I develop a little more experience with video, I have more respect and admiration for cinematographers and video producers and their particular craft. I know the shutter speeds I use are not the best, my focus ebbs and flows and possibly my image isn't as stable as it could be, but on the other hand, the video footage I record adds to the stories I am able to tell. For me, the video is an adjunct to my still photographs. Stills still rule, but video can lend a hand. And if you practise shooting both, you don't need to make a decision while on location about what you'll do with the material, but if you don't shoot any video, then there's no decision to make anyway.
Give it a go!
And I have a couple of videos shot at Middlehurst - they just need a little refining and I'll post them up onto YouTube!
Middlehurst in the fog - a view with a difference, July 2023.
Phase One XF 150MP, 80mm Schneider Krueznach, f2.8 @ 1/2000 second, ISO 100
Over the years, the one thing I've learned about camera designs and features is not to assume I know it all. While a particular design or feature might be of little interest to me, for another photographer it could be the very reason a camera is purchased.
And travel photography covers such a wide range of different disciplines, it's difficult to know what a camera might need to do, except to say it should do it all. On this basis, you'd have to say that a mirrorless or DSLR camera is the best fit for travel, being versatile enough to shoot just about every subject, plus accepting an extensive range of lenses and accessories.
When it comes to full-frame sensors, the smaller APS-C size or the Micro Four Thirds, does the size matter? While you might prefer a larger sensor (and technically a larger sensor should perform better than a smaller one), in practice I see very little difference. Not that I am directly comparing one with the other, rather the travel images I have seen taken with all these sensors can be fantastic. More important is the light and the exposure, so rather than worry what size the sensor is, perhaps the real question is how large and heavy is your camera choice and accompanying lenses? Younger and fitter photographers can cart around any of the modern camera outfits without a care in the world, while others gaining a few years may prefer a smaller and lighter outfit so they can enjoy the day and not complain about a sore back in the evening.
There is also a small range of all-in-one or compact cameras. The really small ones are ideal for travel when you have severe weight and luggage restrictions, while those with a long zoom lens can be very convenient – although at the risk of betraying my earlier comment, perhaps more suited to a traveller who casually takes photographs, rather than a photographer who is travelling!
*** Would you like to visit Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan with me? Check out the details on the Better Photography website and email Kim this week as we still have time to get you on board for our Sept/Oct departures!
Phase One XF 150MP, 80mm Schneider Krueznach, f4 @ 1/2000 second, ISO 200
I am reminded of the landscape photographer's motto: no matter what the weather's like, go!
As you read this, Tony Hewitt and I are finishing up our second week at Middlehurst Station for 2023. Our six photographers have been treated to sunshine, fog, frost and rain and a simply amazing collection of landscapes. One of our earlier guests complained that Tony and I undersell how amazing Middlehurst is and that she would have come much earlier if only she knew! Selfishly, Tony and I hope we sell out our 2024 event because we're super keen to come again too!
On Sunday morning (yesterday if you're reading this on Monday), I confess we didn't 'go'. After a couple of amazing days of excellent weather for photography, we hit a couple of rain days and were happy to take a rest. Rain is also great for photography so we weren't complaining, but it means you don't have to be out on location for first light. Assuming there's no burst of sunshine breaking through, you can probably get better photos an hour or so after sunrise if the weather is socked in. However, I confess that we didn't 'go'.
On Sunday afternoon, even though the rain had eased, the weather was still very heavy. Nevertheless, we headed off to a lookout in search of moody clouds amongst the ranges. We hung around for a couple of hours, with no expectations. The clouds on the mountains opposite seemed to be clinging more tightly if anything, but suddenly they relaxed. Suddenly we could see the mountains behind the opposite mountains, peeping through and as the sun set, the clouds parted and we had a wonderful light show. No matter what the weather's like, go!
The photo above has absolutely nothing to do with Sunday afternoon. It was taken a couple of days earlier and shot from a helicopter, with high cloud creating a perfect soft box lighting effect for the landscape below. And the timing for the snow melt was just about perfect for the zebra stripes. With aerials, I like to keep my shutter speed at 1/2000 second or higher. Yes, you can get sharp photos with slower shutter speeds, but I find the number of failures (blurred shots) is much higher, so why risk it if you can use a wider aperture and a higher ISO speed?
If you're interested in Middlehurst for August 2024, drop my assistant Kim a line ([email protected]) and she will put you on the 'interested' list. Full details will be available shortly. And if you're not interested in Middlehurst, get yourself over to New Zealand anyway. It's a fantastic country to photograph.
A new location near Middlehurst, July 2023
Fujifilm X-H2, 8-16mm zoom, 1/40 second @ f10, ISO 400
As you read this, Tony Hewitt and I are in between our two Middlehurst Art Photography experiences for 2023. As you'd expect at this time of the year in New Zealand, the weather has been variable with rain, sun and snow - perfect for our photography. However, it hasn't been as cold as it could be, but that is likely to change tonight as I write this!
Middlehurst is a working sheep and cattle station in the far north of the South Island. The first few times we visited, we lodged in rustic shearers' quarters, but today we're housed in a modern complex with heated floors and an on-site chef. It appears you no longer have to suffer to create great art!
But is our 'art' good enough to express the Middlehurst experience? One of the photographers this week suggested that we actually undersell the magic, indicating she thought Middlehurst was far better than she expected!
I know Tony and I love returning here and perhaps we feel a little guilty, hoping that sufficient photographers will sign up each year so we get to experience Middlehurst once again. But I guess how we convey that experience still challenges us, no matter how great we think our photographs are.
So, we will try to better sell the Middlehurst experience going forwards! In the meantime, we're taking advantage of the couple of days in between, enjoying Middlehurst and its surroundings. The photo above is a little location found not too far away that we have probably driven past a dozen times or more over the years, but on this occasion, we noticed the little pond and the surrounding trees.
It was a nice little discovery! And we're looking forward to starting our second Middlehurst experience next week!
Angel Wings, Shark Bay, WA
Phase One XF 150MP, 110mm Schneider, f4 @ 1/2000 second, ISO 200
In the June 2023 issue of Better Photography, we present a couple of articles about AI (or perhaps we should call it IA – intelligent artificialness). Photographers around the world are looking at this new ‘technology’ with some trepidation and while it will certainly have an impact, it won’t prevent us from continuing to photograph as we have been previously, if we want to. No one is forcing us to engage with AI. It’s a choice.
In fact, the current situation reminds me of the introduction of digital photography and the ability to composite multiple images together. There were those who opposed the technique, calling it ‘graphic design’ and ‘not photography’. Some photographers still oppose composite images and if they do, they can exercise their choice to use ‘in camera’ captures for their own work. Photography is a language and there are many acceptable ways to approach it.
However, it appears that the term ‘in camera’ is suddenly in dispute. In fact, this is perhaps the most worrying aspect of AI – that this pimply-faced upstart can commandeer a term us experienced luddites and dinosaurs have been using for years. For me, ‘in camera’ means a single capture photograph, as opposed to a composite photograph that comprises two or more images. ‘In camera’ can also mean a single capture with no or minimal post-production. However, in the world of AI, ‘in camera’ appears to indicate a photograph that was taken with a camera, as opposed to being created by an AI bot. Alarmingly, from ‘their’ perspective, ‘in camera’ can mean both single capture and composite images that have been taken with a camera.
Are we going to stand for this ill-considered approbation of our valuable heritage? Do we not have enough to argue about with the terminology already, without having to admit yet another member to the debating club? Or will AI serve to join the 'in camera' forces of good and evil, single capture and composite alike, as we make a stand to protect ‘real’ photography?
Time will tell. The photograph above is an in camera, single capture photograph of Shark Bay, taken a few weeks ago on a workshop with Tony Hewitt and a band of wonderful photographers.
Shark Bay, Western Australia
Phase One XF 150MP, 110mm Schneider, 1/2000 second @ f4, ISO 100
I am trying to be contemporary - meaning I'm writing this from Shark Bay. The sun is about to set, Tony Hewitt has run down to the water's edge at Monkey Mia to photograph the sky and I'm typing furiously. Maybe I'll take the iphone down to shoot a sunset after all. Please don't tell anyone I was thinking about it...
Our 8 photographers have arrived this afternoon and we're about to have evening drinks and introductions. The weather is warm with not a breath of wind, so we'll sit outside and enjoy the ambience - and talk about photography. And over the next three days we'll explore Shark Bay aerials both with our cameras and then with our imagination in post-production. Photography, I believe, is always a two-step process.
The photo above was taken this morning and the weather forecast for tomorrow (which is when you'll probably be reading this) is the same.
What a great place to spend some time taking photographs!
I really should try a little harder...
More wetlands in southern NSW
Phase One XF 150MP, 80mm Schneider Krueznach, f3.2 @ 1/2000 second, ISO 125
Most of us take a computer with us when we travel. Not always, of course. Walking and camping treks might mean we don’t have the opportunity to wrangle our files while on location, but if we’re working out of a vehicle, vessel or hotel room, a laptop is usually somewhere nearby. How do you store your files?
Everyone is different, but I find I’m capturing imagery with a range of devices – my Phase One medium format, my Fujifilm system for wildlife, my DJI Pocket for location video and my DJI Mavic Pro 2 for drones. And there are the photos and videos taken on my iPhone – where do you save them all?
My solution is to create a folder on my laptop for the trip or travel location. If I’m in Antarctica and South Georgia for two voyages, then that will be a separate folder for each. If I’m down the south coast of NSW for a weekend, that’s another folder. And I name the folder something like: 230115-Antarctica or 230428-Bermagui.
Into this folder I place everything to do with the trip. In Lightroom, I make a new catalogue and store it in this folder. In Capture One, I store the session and all the raw files. And I manually transfer all the other files in as well.
Inside this folder, I currently have a sub-folder called ‘Capture’ and into this are a series of sub-folders which contain my raw files. I have a folder for each day, or sometimes two or three folders a day if I have visited multiple locations. The only rule is that all the raw files end up in a folder that sits inside the Capture folder, which In turn is inside the trip folder (I hope that makes sense).
Capture One actually creates this folder structure for you when you create a new session and one of the other folders it includes is Output. When doing preliminary edits on the trip, I use this folder to hold all my working files.
I’m sure there are many variations on this theme, but what I like is having that one folder with everything else inside. Then when I return home, it is a simple matter to copy the whole folder across to my studio computer and archive system, knowing I have everything in hand.
Lone tree, Arkaroola. Although I had a tripod with me, this was hand-held!
Fujifilm X-H2, 150-600mm Fujinon lens, f6.4 @ 1/500 second, ISO 1250
As a landscape photographer, there’s a strong argument for using a tripod, but when it comes to travel, the case is not clear cut. Sure, travel photographers shoot landscapes and probably to get the best possible landscape exposure, a tripod would be useful. However, if carrying a tripod restricts your movement for capturing other aspects of your trip – such as portraits, interiors, documentary – then maybe your tripod is best left at home.
In a travel context, you can often leave a tripod behind in the hotel or vehicle, so taking one with you on the trip is easy enough. I have a small, lightweight tripod which isn’t as stable or as functional as I’d like for landscape photography, but it’s much easier to work with when travelling. Maybe the answer is a compromise tripod for your travel work, too.
The other option is to say no tripod. If tripods serve two main purposes, to keep the camera stable and to slow yourself down so you can frame carefully considered compositions, perhaps these purposes are incompatible with travel photography. Certainly you don’t want to be slowing yourself down when shooting in the street and if you’re worried about camera shake, use different camera settings. If you’re unwilling to change your aperture, you can usually increase your ISO setting without any significant compromise. When you think about it, if you set a fast enough shutter speed, there’s no need for a tripod at all.
So, what about shooting landscapes and wildlife with telephoto lenses? When it comes to landscape, just ramp up the ISO setting so you’re shooting at 1/1000 second or more and, along with image stabilisation, you should have perfectly sharp images. For wildlife, tripods and gimbals are generally used for the large super-telephotos because they're too heavy to hand-hold for long periods – perhaps you need to compromise with a monopod or take a lighter telephoto zoom instead?
When it comes to equipment, travel photographers often find themselves making the most of what they have brought with them, comfortable in the knowledge that if they had brought everything, they wouldn’t be able to carry it!