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

Best Camera Settings For Travel Photography?

May 14, 2023

Salt Lake, VictoriaSalt Lake, Victoria

Salt Lake, Victoria
Phase One XF, 80mm Schneider Kreuznach lens, f8 @ 1/2000 second, ISO 160

I see a lot of different approaches to camera skills on the many photo tours I do, so if you’re comfortable with your approach, there’s no need to change. If it’s not broken, you don’t need to fix it.

Having said that, current cameras offer us many options that make capturing a great exposure that much easier. Personally, I generally use aperture priority exposure control because I want to control depth-of-field as much as possible. This means the camera sets the shutter speed and, by selecting Auto ISO, the sensitivity as well. In the Auto ISO controls, you can usually set a minimum shutter speed and, depending on what I am shooting, this will vary from 1/30 second to 1/500 second. For a lot of street and documentary work, I find a little subject or camera movement adds to the emotional content of the image, so I’m not looking for absolute sharpness. However, if I am (for instance, for wildlife or sport), then I can set a faster shutter speed.

Most cameras have image stabilisation and I keep this turned on. It won’t freeze the action of a moving subject, but it will keep your camera still and reduce camera shake. Auto ISO and image stabilisation have really transformed how we shoot indoor and low light travel situations.

For autofocus, I’m usually set to continuous as my subjects are generally moving (or I am) and face-recognition can be really useful. I’m not afraid to set a high frame rate as well if I think it will help capture the absolute best nuance of expression or gesture. Sure, it means I have more photos to edit at the end of the shoot, but that’s a positive for me if it gets me the result.

Finally, no matter how you have your camera set, chances are something will happen and you want a different set up – quickly! Most cameras have custom function settings. For instance, on my Fujifilm X-H2, have C1 set for animals, C2 for birds, C3 for general travel and humans, C4 for landscape. If something arises, I can quickly reset the camera with the turn of the command dial. Chances are your camera can be set up in a similar fashion.

 


Shooting Aerials At Key Travel Locations

May 09, 2023

The Pinnacles, ArkaroolaThe Pinnacles, Arkaroola

The Pinnacles, Arkaroola. Drones get you into positions not otherwise possible.
DJI Mavic Pro 2, f8 @ 1/200 second, ISO 100

Many professional travel photographers aim for at least one aerial shoot at each destination, assuming it is in the budget. And if it isn’t in the budget (if there is a budget), then a drone can assist (assuming the location permits drones – not all countries or locations do).

If the aim of your travel project is to return with a portfolio of images that depict a variety of perspectives, then getting up into the air is a no brainer. It will make an impact on your audience, whether it’s a travel brochure or a travel diary. It’s also a great way to see and understand the location you’re shooting, bringing together the relative landmarks and putting them into context. The aerial perspective remains interesting and attractive, despite the fact we’re all getting used to aerial photographs and video clips. Until we grow wings, this is likely to remain the case.

So, how do you get up into the air? The answer is simple if you have a drone and droning is permitted. Just getting up and above important landmarks will give you images with a different perspective.

Without a drone, you could look for a skyscraper or a tall mountain to give you an overview, but this advice isn’t particularly helpful in many locations. The remaining option is to hire a plane, helicopter or balloon. And while photographers love shooting with doors off, if you use a floppy lens hood, it’s possible to shoot through many aircraft windows and get excellent results. This will possibly keep the price of your flight down and certainly make your pilot happier (I’ve yet to meet a pilot who loves removing and attaching doors).

If possible, pick a good time of day to shoot. Often this is early morning and late afternoon, but to be honest, even midday photos from the air can look excellent – the weather is probably more a consideration than the time of day.


Camera Straps - Keeping Your Camera Ready For Travel

May 07, 2023

Grease ice surrounds the Astrolabe Islands, AntarcticaGrease ice surrounds the Astrolabe Islands, Antarctica

Grease ice surrounds the Astrolabe Islands, Antarctica
Canon EOS 5DSR, f7.1 @ 1/160 second, ISO 100

There’s not much point keeping your camera tucked safely away in your camera bag or backpack as a travel photographer (unless you’re in transit or visiting a place where you’re certainly not going to be taking photographs – one can’t be too absolute in these days of social media commentary)! If something interesting happens, there’s a good chance you’ll miss it while you’re fumbling around with a zipper and turning the power on.

Assuming as a travel photographer our desire is to capture the best moments that reflect a location’s culture and customs, we need to respond quickly while walking the streets, wandering through a market or visiting a landmark. First thoughts are to have our camera around our neck or over our shoulder. In practice, we’re often anticipating action before it happens, so the camera could already be in our hands with the power turned on. The point is, a comfortable camera strap is a good investment.

There are other options, too. A wrist strap for a small and light camera might be even quicker and easier to use, allowing you to keep the camera in your hand all the time. (And a comfortable camera grip assists here as well). If you have two cameras, a double camera strap or camera harness system can evenly distribute the weight and keep both cameras ready. And there are belt and camera bag quick-release systems that let you keep your camera out of your camera bag and attached to your person, ready for action.

The point to consider when shooting travel, is that the photos that matter are usually very fleeting and if you’re not ready, you’ll miss the key point of the moment. Keep your camera ready at all times and a comfortable camera strap is a good place to start.

 

 


Be Aware of Social Issues When Travelling and Photographing People

April 25, 2023

Cold Water Stream, Middlehurst Station, NZCold Water Stream, Middlehurst Station, NZ

Cold Water Stream, Middlehurst Station, NZ
Phase One XF 150MP, 110mm Schneider Krueznach, f5.6 @ 1/500 second, ISO 50

When travelling, it can be tempting to photograph street life and the people who live there. There’s probably no trouble photographing someone shopping in a market, but what about a homeless person or a beggar? Photographs of homeless people have historically been very popular, so much so they are almost cliché today. Invariably the attraction for the photographer is the well-worn clothing or the character lines in the face. Even so, I would find it difficult to photograph someone on the street where I live without first asking permission. I’d feel like I was taking advantage of them if I stole a sneaky shot – but that is a purely personal viewpoint.

Of course, it’s not just about asking permission – there are also issues of trust and exploitation to consider. Are you genuinely starting a conversation because you’re interested, or do you just want to take a photo? And if so, does it really matter, given most social interactions are invariably shallow (have a nice day)?

So why is it different when we’re overseas in a less wealthy country? As tourists (or travellers), we’re looking at the creased clothes and lined faces as photographic subjects, but often we’re oblivious (or choose to be) to the social issues these scenes represent. Does this mean we shouldn’t photograph people in the street?

My experience is that some people are happy to be photographed, others are not. That’s your first clue. And when I have engaged with a positive subject, they have no expectations of a lifelong relationship, but seem genuinely happy to receive the attention and have a conversation.

The ‘thought police’ will criticise me for exploiting my subjects – a nosey Westerner who is (comparatively) wealthy pretending to engage with a poor local struggling to exist from day to day. I can’t argue that fact, but I think that is the case whether or not I take the photograph.

Years ago I was invited to photograph in a small community. I was given strict instructions by the ‘minders’ of what I could and couldn’t do, but once I was there, what I discovered was that these people were no different to me and if I just used the manners my parents taught me, which includes respecting others, the interaction became fairly straightforward.

 I find this a good approach for photographing people everywhere. And no matter who you photograph, there will always be someone on social media saying you shouldn’t!

 

 


Rain Covers and Shower Caps for Travel Photographers

April 20, 2023

Early morning, Inland Kaikoura Ranges, Middlehurst, NZEarly morning, Inland Kaikoura Ranges, Middlehurst, NZ

Early morning, Inland Kaikoura Ranges, Middlehurst, NZ
Phase One XF 150MP, 240mm Schneider Kreuznach, f11 @ 1/20 second, ISO 50

Whenever I take a rain cover for my camera, it doesn’t rain. But if I travel to a desert region, where it hasn’t rained for 50 years and I leave my rain cover behind, it pours!

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little. And maybe we don’t need a rain cover to save our cameras from a sprinkle of rain. Most modern cameras have a plethora of dust and moisture seals, as do the lenses, so a little rain is probably more of an inconvenience than a problem. The main thing to remember is to wipe the water droplets off the front lens element (although if you’re using a lens hood, you’re probably pretty safe).

For more persistent rain, or if you’re on a trek or a walk with no chance to dry out a damp camera between shoots, then prevention is indeed better than attempting a cure. A rain cover is a great accessory for travel photography – which invariably includes landscape and wildlife work from time to time. And it should be light and compact, so not an issue in terms of additional weight.

A look on photo retailer websites will reveal a range of different rain cover designs and sizes. Some of the more elaborate units will certainly do a great job, but as a travel photographer we’re probably looking for a small, simple affair. A tube of plastic material with a tie or two will do the job, assuming it is large enough. And you don’t even have to buy a camera cover when a plastic bag (assuming you can still find them) is probably good enough.

Friend Mike Langford put me onto the best free accessory in the universe: the shower cap found in most hotel bathrooms. While both Mike and I might struggle to explain to hotel management why we need a shower cap at all, there’s no doubting one makes a great camera cover and I always keep one or two in my camera bag.

 


Does the ISO Setting Matter for Travel Photography?

April 18, 2023

Trees, Middlehurst Station, NZTrees, Middlehurst Station, NZ

Trees, Middlehurst Station, NZ
Phase One XF 150MP, 110mm Schneider Kreuznach, f2.8 @ 1/1250 second, ISO 100

Camera technology has advanced so much over the last two decades that all cameras can shoot at ISO 100 (or their native setting) up to at least ISO 800 without there being any discernible difference. And in many cases, you can shoot at ISO 102,000 and still get great shots. Should you?

At the risk of over-simplying the issue, ISO doesn’t matter. The only thing you need to worry about is capturing the moment and keeping the subject suitably sharp.

Some travel photographers are after a perfect landscape, so ISO is important. Their optimum result will be captured at ISO 100 (or their native setting), but if they are travelling light without a tripod and the light is low, there may be no option but to choose a higher ISO setting. In my opinion, it’s better to capture a sharp landscape at ISO 1600 than a blurred one at ISO 100.

The same theory applies to any subject you’re photographing where sharp subjects are required, but when it comes to travel, a little movement in your subject might be quite acceptable. You may find yourself turning auto ISO off so you can force a slightly slower shutter speed. But just as a little movement in a travel photograph can add, rather than detract, so can a little ISO noise add to the patina of a travel location.

I photographed Bhutan 10 years ago at ISO 6400. When you looked at the files at 100%, there was lots of noise to behold, but I can’t remember a single person telling me the noise was unacceptable. Strong subject matter and modern cameras has essentially made the ISO question obsolete. Use auto ISO and concentrate on the aperture and shutter speed settings as these will have a more substantial impact on your travel shots.

 


The Best Portrait Lenses for Travel Photography

April 16, 2023

Musician, Khiva, UzbekistanMusician, Khiva, UzbekistanOur musician had his right hand in plaster, but the rest of him was very expressive! Khiva. Uzbekistan.

Musician, Khiva, Uzbekistan Fujifilm X-T3, Fujinon XF56mm f1.2 R, f1.2 @ 1/1100 second, ISO 160

Like so many things in photography, there’s no single answer for every eventuality. With travel portraiture, a single lens simply isn’t going to cut it. For instance, if you’re shooting environmental portraits on the street, then a 24mm or 35mm lens might be needed to allow you to get in close to your subject. On the other hand, if you’re shooting from a distance, a 70-200mm will let you frame closely, while travel portraits with the permission of your subjects can be shot with a 50mm or 85mm, depending on how much background you want.

When shooting portraits with standard zoom lenses, even at f2.8, the depth-of-field isn’t that shallow, so my preference is to use a prime lens, like a 50mm f1.4 or an 85mm f1.8. Used wide open (at their maximum aperture), the bokeh is beautiful. Note, you don’t need the professional 50mm f1.2 or 85mm f1.4 lenses: while the quality is simply breathtaking, they are also considerably bigger and heavier and perhaps the difference isn’t quite sufficient to justify. Packing the right set of lenses is always a matter of compromise.

Other portrait primes to consider are the 35mm f1.4 and a 105mm f1.4, although the latter will be a big lens and perhaps a little too heavy.

If you know you’re doing a lot of portraiture, don’t forget a telephoto with a wide aperture, such as a 200mm f2.0 or a 300mm f2.8. Although the aperture isn’t as wide as a 50mm f1.2, for example, the longer focal length makes up for it and when you’re working in close to your subject, not only can you fill the frame, the background is thrown beautifully out of focus. However, these are big, heavy lenses so you have to be sure of what you want to shoot – and carry around.

If portraiture is your thing, a kit of three or four prime lenses with portraiture in mind isn’t a silly option. You’re not going to be completely limited when it comes to shooting other subjects, such as landscapes, while if portraiture is your thing, you’re using exactly the lenses you need to.

Join Peter Eastway on his next trip to Uzbekistan in October 2023, click link for full details:

https://www.betterphotography.com/workshop-seminars/workshops/silk-road-photo-tour-2-3-to-12-october-2021-us-5995-detail
 

 

 


The Three Best Lenses for Travel Photography

April 13, 2023

City wall, Khiva, UzbekistanCity wall, Khiva, Uzbekistan

City wall, Khiva, Uzbekistan
Phase One A series, 100MP IQ3, 180mm Rodenstock, 1/30 second @ f11, ISO 50

These days, it’s not too hard to purchase a camera system that is relatively lightweight and compact, so taking three lenses with you on a trip is easy enough. But which three lenses? The ‘safety’ set would be something like a 16-35mm wide-angle zoom, a 24-105mm standard zoom and a 70-200mm or 100-400mm telephoto zoom. This covers all eventualities – or put another way, you’re covered for anything that crops up.

So, is that the answer? Is that the perfect outfit? Certainly, there are other lenses you could consider, such as an ultra wide-angle zoom (like an 11-24mm) and a super long telephoto (e.g. a 100-500mm). These lenses were considered if you could only take two lenses with you and you were looking for something different, but these lenses could also add bulk and weight to your kit. As you add lenses into your arsenal, you also need to consider the weight and what you’ll feel like towards the end of a busy day on the move. Generally, the trick for travel photography is to travel lightly.

Another approach is to consider the type of photography you’re going to take on your travels. If you’re on a trip to Africa to photograph wildlife, a better set of lenses might be a 16-35mm, a 70-200mm and a 100-150mm. On a trip to Bhutan where you’re photographing people, often in dim interiors, a 50mm f1.4 or an 85mm f1.8 might be more useful than the 24-105mm. Sure, you don’t have the versatility of a zoom lens and you don’t necessarily need a wide aperture for low light (given the high ISO settings we can use), but think about the beautiful bokeh you can achieve in your portraits.

My approach is to work as though I had only two lenses plus one extra. This means an ultra wide-angle zoom and as long a telephoto zoom as I can afford or carry. Then I choose the extra lens based on the special projects I might want to shoot along the way – and often this is a wide aperture 35mm, 50mm or 85mm.

Join Peter Eastway on his next trip to Uzbekistan in October 2023, click link for full details:

https://www.betterphotography.com/workshop-seminars/workshops/silk-road-photo-tour-2-3-to-12-october-2021-us-5995-detail

 

 


Do you need a Laptop or iPad for Travel Photography?

April 11, 2023

Doorway, Registan Square, Samarkand, UzbekistanDoorway, Registan Square, Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Doorway, Registan Square, Samarkand, Uzbekistan
Fujifilm X-T3, Fujinon XF8-16mm f2.8 R LM WR, f7.1 @ 1/125 second, ISO 160

A laptop, iPad or even a smart phone is a great tool for travel photography. Invariably when travelling, there are down times in the hotel or at the airport that can be fruitfully spent reviewing and quickly editing your photographs. And let’s face it, your camera can probably transfer your photos directly to your device – automatically using a wi-fi connection.

Now there are caveats, of course. Sometimes we need to travel lightly and even packing two lenses is pushing things, so taking a laptop is out of the question. Or you might be trekking in the wilds for a couple of weeks without power – will a solar charging station do the trick? So, there are travel itineraries that will preclude us from taking a laptop or even an iPad.

However, for many trips, we spend the evenings in a hotel room with a desk, a power point and probably internet. It makes sense to download your photos and make a back-up. I use cards with large capacities, so I end up with three copies – one on the card which often lasts several days, one on the laptop and a second on a back-up drive. If I leave my cameras and computer in the hotel room at night (this depends on where I am), I take the back-up drive with me, just in case!

But it’s not safety that drives me to look at my photos in the evening. First and foremost, I’m curious! Did I get the shots I had been hoping to? Is my equipment working as expected – better to find a problem now than when the trip is over? And if I’ve missed a shot, is there an opportunity to reshoot on the following day?

Whether using a laptop or an iPad (or similar), programs like Lightroom, Capture One and ACDSee allow you to quickly rate the best images. I don’t bother selecting and deleting bad shots, rather I give a star to the photos that have potential. If there are a lot of good shots, maybe I have to start applying two stars on a second round.

And then if there’s time, I might quickly process one or two of the most interesting shots. Often when we’re out on location, we have lots of great ideas that can be forgotten if we don’t write them down or do a quick edit directly onto the file.

So, assuming I didn’t drink too much red wine, by the time my head hits the pillow, I have a good idea of what I have shot successfully – and hopefully not too many mistakes to correct the following day!

Join Peter Eastway on his next trip to Uzbekistan in October 2023, click link for full details:

https://www.betterphotography.com/workshop-seminars/workshops/silk-road-photo-tour-2-3-to-12-october-2021-us-5995-detail

 

 


When Size Does Matter

April 06, 2023

Sheep, Middlehurst StationSheep, Middlehurst StationSheep. Looks great as a large print!

Sheep, Middlehurst Station
Phase One XF, 110mm lens, f2.8 @ 1/1000 second, ISO 200

Looking at this photograph on our website, in your email reader, on Facebook or Instagram, it is a small reproduction. The file is 1000 pixels square. What do you see? At first, it's an aerial landscape, brown in hue, some interesting light revealing the lay of the land. Plus there is a bunch of white spots on it. A closer look and (hopefully) you'll see some sheep and, down the bottom left, some patches of snow, which could almost be sheep.

The reproduction is adequate (or should I write, I'm hoping the reproduction is adequate), so I have successfully communicated my vision - at this size.

But size matters. I could never use this file, or the larger file I made it from, for printing. In the full size file, you can see the sheep's various positions - walking, standing, sitting, lying. There's a tonne of glorious detail. However, you can also see the faulty post-production where the 'quick and cheerful' processing to produce the file here reveals a host of limitations - colour haloes, poor masking (done quickly with luminosity masking), over sharpening with the clarity slider.

I'm not a dinosaur or a luddite (okay, so I don't think I am), but while the latest editing software does amazing things, it's all being dumbed down to the lowest common denominator - the internet. It appears this is the only game in town - does this matter?

Probably not, as long as we're aware of it. Being mindful of the way the internet (especially Facebook) degrades the masterpieces produced by my computer, I'm just running with the crowd and enjoying the technology. The latest set of masking tools in Lightroom is simply wonderful, but they are far from perfect. They will rarely allow you to make a large print without further masking refinement. What works for 1000 pixels is no guarantee for 5000 or 10,000 pixels.

So, size does matter. My current approach is to enjoy the benefits of quickly masking my images at low resolution and exploring where they could go, but before I put that image into a competition, a book or onto a print, I will start afresh and process the file - appropriately for the size.

There is so much more to photography than a quick internet post. If you're progressing well with your photography, why not join Tony Hewitt and me over in Middlehurst this year where we'll share everything about our approach to high end photography. We will show you how to produce files for print and we'll even produce a photo book containing your photos! Full details on the website - click here.

 

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