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© Nevada Wier Camagüey, Cuba.
Canon 5D MarkIII
Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 II USM 19mm 0.6sec at f/6.3 ISO 800
Aperture Priority. Evaluative Metering
No flash fired, on a tripod.
I don’t remember who said, “If your photographs are boring then find a better subject”. I certainly cannot argue with that statement. Most of us search for interesting landscapes, story and project ideas in our hometowns. However I have an opposite problem: Because of all the place to which I travel — I am overflowing with interesting subjects, in fact, sometimes I think I am cursed with them.
I think travel photography is one of the hardest genres because of this. I have seen some of the best editorial and commercial photographers show some of the most boring, mundane travel images in presentations. The elation of travel trumped the artistry of photography
Travel is an elixir. I am addicted to travel; I am a sensory junkie. I love the smells, the feelings of adventure, newness and self-discovery. I revel in the unknown and being off-kilter. I love meeting new people, eating unusual foods, and not knowing what the next minute will bring my way. Photography is fine friend with which to travel – it has forced me to interaction intimately, non-verbally, and honestly with strangers. I am forced to come in close and initiate the relationship. I have become a better person because I travel.
So of course we are emotionally attached to our travel photographs. They are snapshots of us, the ultimate selfie. When we exhibit a photograph made during our travels, we are showing a little bit of our soul. However, honestly, any photograph is a bit of our soul. It is not enough to render an image of an interesting person that we met, or a stunning statue, or intricate architecture. Our job as a photographer is to make an interesting image of whatever we decide to immortalize. There is no such thing as a boring subject, just boring ways of photographing it. An interesting subject also demands an interesting or unique viewpoint.
I have the luxury of traveling to some of the most intriguing places in the world, primarily to photograph the cultures that live within.
Cuba is on the photo radar! And, it is a photographers dream: imaginative decay, intriguing people, unexpected color, and exuberant expressions! Color, light, action, pattern! And, plenty of gestures!
It is too easy. Just walk down a street in Cuba and without thinking you will find your hands on your camera “click”, “click”, “click”. It is infectious and joyful. There are very few shy people and very few “no!” I open my arms and I feel as if I can hug Cuba. That is a great travel feeling.
Yet, as a photographer I have to not only feel, but think. I have to not only experience, but also interpret. I have to make an interesting image of an interesting subject.
This is a long preachy, preamble to talking about the above image. But it is part of its anatomy.
The image above was taken early in 2014 when I was traveling throughout Cuba with a two photographer friends, American and Cuban. Carlos, my Cuban friend, had met Luis Antonio (80 years old) on previous trip. He lived in a one of those sad, beautiful, decrepit, extraordinary, run-down, “how-can-anyone-live-here!” houses that is too prevalent in Cuba.
If you are only a street photojournalist, trying to be an unobtrusive observer, then you can wait find the “decisive” moments. I have a bit more in repertoire and often find that I have to compose a portrait, and that requires extending myself in order to create a relationship. This time I had an entrée, and that makes it easier of course. Often times I have to be open and outright, and invite myself inside someone’s home (“Puedo?”). Often amusing (or horrifying) them with my pathetic Spanish (or non-existent language since I primarily travel in Asia).
Luis was charming; his neighbors were charming. I loved the entire experience. But, I wanted to make a different portrait of him. I walked all around his decaying house. I marveled at the colors in the “how-can-he-cook-here!” kitchen. It was dark. I had my workhorse Canon 5DMarkIII but photographing handheld would have required cranking the ISO to such a high degree that I knew the image would fall apart upon close inspection. I rarely travel with a tripod but this time I had one with me.
I decided to photograph Luis from the within the kitchen with my widest-angle lens. The colors were a subtle pastel palette. I used the highest ISO that I knew would hold the most detail with the least amount of noise. Since it was still image I knew a slow shutter speed was fine… but not too slow.
I like environmental portraits where the environment is as important as the person within it.
So tomorrow I head to Cuba again. And, it WILL be fun!! And, I will enjoy being a traveler there. And, I will also have to see differently and make images with impact, intent, and originality. Not an easy task!
© nevada wier 2012 Iceland, Skogafoss Falls
iphone 4s; App: Camera Bag, Italiano processing
Whoever said “the best camera is the one you have with you” hit it straight on the mark. Recently I was in Iceland, enjoying its summer of eternal daylight and plethora of amazing waterfalls. I shy away from deeming myself a “nature photographer”. One either is extraordinarily lucky to be in great location with amazing light or they are persistent in order to be in that great location and finally have amazing light. I am not that patient and luck is fleeting. However, in Iceland there I was, on a tripod (ack!) photographing its abnormal number of incredible and accessible waterfalls. It felt as if every day I was at the bottom or top or side of yet another mind-blowing thundering cascade. At the first one, I used a neutral density filter for that languid slow shutter – de rigeurs for any water enthusiast. At the next I made panoramas. At another I played with multiple exposures (actually I really like what I did with the multiple exposures; it sure took Canon a long time to put that feature on the 5D camera!) and at yet another I even tried the new HDR feature on the Canon 5DMarkIII, even though I am not a fan of HDR. Finally I thought “Screw it, I’m just going to go look at the next waterfall!” But, grabbed my iPhone at the last minute. And, of course, at this particular waterfall I had the best photography opportunity of all because there was a wedding party of hardy Icelanders braving the cold spray for their photographers. People! My métier! Naturally I tagged along… with my iPhone. In my opinion, the iPhone is as “serious” of a camera as my SLRs. What type of camera one uses is irrelevant; it is how you use that matters. So there I was making the best waterfall image of the trip with my iPhone.
After my initial frenzy of photo app buying and fiddling with photos in a ridiculously small screen, I decided that I only have the time and patience to use with two apps that does the processing for me. Since I don’t crop my images I found that Hipstatmatic (usually John S lens and Kodot film), or Camera Bag (I use Lolo, Italiano, and occasionally Magazine). that I liked best for my images. I have zero desire, or time, to spend messing about with other app processing. I already spend too much time in front of the computer editing my images and processing the RAW images I use in my assignments and personal projects. Two apps are plenty for me.
During my travels I am usually carrying a Canon 5DMarkIII, with a retinue of lenses, for color images and a converted Infrared camera (I have a Canon 5DMarkII with a standard IR conversion and a Canon 5D with an enhanced IR conversion). And, I have the iPhone. That’s a lot of cameras to keep track of but I enjoy all the creative challenges.
I’m heading off to China today to photograph the hill tribes in Guizhou. I have my arsenal of SLRs, lenses, flashes, accessories… and my iPhone! I bet I use it a lot, and not just because I left my other cameras behind.
The following is another images I made this past spring in India at a vintage car museum in Gujarat. I used my iPhone4s to create a preconceived collage of images.
© nevada wier 2012 India, Vintage Car Museum, Gujarat
iphone 4s; App: Camera Bag, Lolo processing
Although this image was made in the long ago days of film, it highlights a number of technical considerations that are still relevant and important. First off, I would like to give a Shout Out to those of us who learned how to make exact exposures on celluloid! I was consistently in a state of Exposure Angst while photographing in difficult light. If the exposure wasn’t within 2/3 stop, the image was too light or too dark. So, my images had to be double-perfect coming out of the camera: the composition and content had to be impeccable (you couldn’t crop slide film unless you brought out the scissors or gaffers tape) and the exposure had to be spot-on with the intended saturation.
And, guess what? It is still critical to make the correct exposure in low-light situations. Although noise reduction is getting better and better in new cameras, if your image is underexposed and taken at a high ISO, you are going to have problems when you begin brightening it in your editing program. Noise is inherent in all shadows, especially if you are using a lower-end camera with a small sensor, and is more pronounced at high ISOs and long exposures. As you move those brightening sliders you will begin to see discolored pixels that makes your image look grainy and odd. Film has plump pleasing grain; digital has square slovenly pixels that are best hidden in the shadows.
And, another Shout Out to Spot Metering! Although most of the time I use Evaluative Metering (Matrix, Segmented, etc. to non Canon users), high-contrast situations beg for the more precise Spot Metering. I have always used the in-camera meters; I find them very accurate. There is no reason to carry more gear than necessary.
So circling back to the above image: I was in Vientiane, Laos photographing the magnificent That Luang Festival. Many of the festival events take place during the day but my favorite time to photograph was in the late evening when people circumambulated the lit That Luang Stupa holding candles. Since I was using Kodak Ektachrome SW transparency film ISO 100, pushed to 200, there was not enough light to stop the action without panning or using a flash. I decided on the later since I wanted the beautiful That Luang Stupa sharp in the background. I put my camera on a tripod in the vertical position, set my meter to Spot Metering (2% coverage on the Canon 1V) and aimed the focusing/meter point at the stupa. I don’t know what exposure I used but I am guessing that it was about one second, maybe longer. Although people were carrying candles there wasn’t much ambient light in the foreground, plus the That Luang was so bright that the rest of the frame was bound to go dark (slide film only has a latitude of approximately 4-5 stops exposure range).
I can’t remember if I put the Canon flash directly on the hot shoe or was holding it with a TTL wire; either way would be a very similar result since I would not have held it too far out. I powered down the intensity of the flash output probably to – 2 EV. Finally I added a Lumiquest FX diffuser with an amber gel.
I took a couple of frames and (vision of light bulb going on) I realized that my flash was set to Front Curtain Sync (1st Curtain Sync), which meant that the flash was going off at the beginning of the exposure. At a fast shutter speed that doesn’t matter but at the slow 1 – 2 second exposure it meant that the flash (about 1/800th sec) would illuminate the people but then the shutter will remain open for the rest of the exposure. The stupa would have the correct exposure but, the bright candle flames would show up as a trail of light in front of the people. That would look strange; the candlelight needed to trail behind. So I set the flash to Rear Curtain sync (2nd Curtain Sync) to correct this problem. Of course that created, yet another, problem. I had judge when to click the shutter when a person would be in the right position in the frame when the flash went off. That wasn’t so easy. I would see a likely looking person; click the shutter to begin the exposure; then, they would stop to talk to someone and no one was in front of the camera when the flash went off. Or, they would slow down or speed up, or someone would pass them at exactly the wrong moment, or… so many possibilities for a bad image! Since it wasn’t possible to review the images in a film camera (ah bless the digital LCD screen), I had absolutely no idea if I was getting a useable image. So I just kept at it. I learned early on, in difficult situations, click deliberately and copiously! It is still true
When I got home to my light table I reviewed the images and most ended up immediately in the trash. (I just loved tossing slides away, so cathartic!). Finally I found this image of a young child looking up at the camera at eye-level. I was thrilled. Notice the candle flames neatly trailing behind. And, it was a perfect exposure as well as a compelling frame.
“Everything has to matter in an image.” I always say.
Canon 5DMarkII 24-70mm f/2.8L (40mm) 1/4 sec. at f/14 ISO 100 Canon 580EXII
Welcome to my world of Bad Light Photography. I’m constantly photographing great situations in mid-day contrasty light (bright highlights, dark shadows). I internally tear at my mind pondering, “What can I do? Think creatively!” I believe in the ancient Chinese proverb: Crisis = Opportunity.
A couple of years ago I was traveling in the lesser-known state of Chattisgarh in India, photographing some of the numerous tribal groups. I stopped at Kangrapada village to make images of the Godaba Tribe’s fast-moving Dhemsa dance. It was a cloudless day at the stark hour of 2pm. They were outside, ready to dance, under big trees. The first thing I always do when I see a situation that I’m interested in photographing is to ask myself, “What is the problem?” Well, this problem was very evident: the light was mottled bright light and deep shadow, beyond the contrast range of my sensor (about half the range of the human eye). They were dancing under the shade of the trees, but it was an inconsistent pattern of light and shade and beyond the dancers was a glaring background. “What can I do? Think creatively!” Eureka, an idea: Pan and Flash!
I set my Canon 5DMark II camera at ISO 100. Then made an exposure for the lowest shutter speed possible of the dancers when they were the shade. That was ¼ sec. at f/14. Perfecto! My starting point for thinking about panning is 1/15 sec., but the slower the shutter speed the more dramatic the background blur. However, the problem with panning people at very slow shutter speeds is that the feet (and the hands) move at a much faster speed than the torso, so they can “ghost out”, disappear completely, and you are left with an image of a footless, handless torso drifting through space.
This is when using direct, bright flash is very helpful (I was using a Canon 580EXII, but a pop-up would work great in this situation). A flash burst is about 1/800th sec., so it will accentuate and freeze that moment within the blur. So it gives an illusion of sharpness with a blur. I always expect mistakes and misses so I “panned and flashed”for dozens of frames. I experimented from 1/15th sec. to ¼ sec. shutter speeds (aperture was not important). I was standing a bit away from the dancers and I needed a bright burst to make an impact, so I probably was on + 1.7 EV with the flash pointed directly at the dancers without a diffuser.
I had a number of interesting images to choose from but this frame I liked the most. The troublesome, splotchy light was smoothed into lines that mimicked the stripes in the women’s dresses. The multiple feet are not a problem as they enhance the feeling of the dance. If you look carefully you can see how the use of flash sharpened the toes and heels. The background of people, bushes, bicycles blurred into patterns of color.
I actually love it when there are problems because then I’m forced to think of a creative solution. Most of my initial photographic ideas are ones that are familiar to me and come easily. As the brilliant Leonardo da Vinci wrote in his diary:
“Life is pretty simple: you do some stuff.
Most fails. Some works.
You do more of what works.
If it works big, others quickly copy it.
Then you do something else.
The trick is to do something else.”
I returned a few weeks ago from five weeks in India leading a National Geographic Expedition photo group to Rajasthan (great fun, great group!) and then I was photographing tribal groups in Orissa and Chattisgarh for three weeks. I wore my neck brace 24/7 (see this post). I felt like a robot since I had to turn my entire body whenever I needed to look to the side; but interestingly, only a few people ever commented on it. I think most tribals thought the brace was a fashion statement (and I was accessorizing with a buff and scarves).
Well, as I wrote in the previous post, I never found a suitable lightweight photo vest for tropical weather, so I tested travel vests and decided on the Magellan Travel Vest. It failed “the photo vest test”. In its defense, the Magellan travel vest is not meant to be a photo vest. However, it also failed “the travel vest test”. I love the fabric and cut of the vest. Yet for the pockets to be truly useable they really do need to be bigger (and there is room). I did wear the vest a few times when I didn’t want to carry my Eagle Creek Departure waist pouch (see this post) but needed a place to hide money in an interior pocket and stow my sunglasses. Otherwise the vest was not that useful and since it was hot in India I abandoned it most of the time.
Now the good news! I love the Lowepro Street and Field system. It was perfect for walking around markets and in villages. I brought all my gear over in my trusty Lowepro Orion AW bag (I may have to mount a campaign for Lowepro to resurrect this great camera bag from its discontinued status, join me!) but it was primarily a vessel for my equipment and stayed in the car most of the time. Honestly I usually only needed two lenses: the 16-35m f/2.8 and usually the 24-70mm. Occasionally I also carried the 24mm f/ 1.6 (I love it, so sharp!). I think I only walked around with my 100-400mm f/4.5 a couple of times.
So I had 2-3 pouches on the waist belt for the 1-2 lenses and one pouch for flash accessories. I also carried my Garmin GPS and Canon S95 on the belt. In addition, I usually had my converted Canon 5D infrared camera in an older TopLoad Zoom (it is not as bulky as the new ones) slung over a shoulder to my left side. So I still looked armed and dangerous (well, not so dangerous) but all the weight was off my shoulders and my neck. It really was just perfect.
I also found that I could slip my Canon 580EX flash into one of the pockets with the Rogue Flashbender – Small Positionable Reflector or LumiQuest FX diffuser and have a workable off-camera flash when I was kneeling and photographing upwards. The new Pocket Wizards Flex TT5 and Mini TT1 Radio Slave for Canon function so much better than the Canon wireless transmitter.
Now I’m on my way to Myanmar and am taking the same setup with me. I have some suggestions for Lowepro about the pouches but generally I am really happy with the gear.
I have graduated to a soft collar and am beginning to get some movement back in my neck. Bless the healing power of bones, and bless seat belts!
I am going to have to design a photo vest though.
…even when it seems impossible to handhold an image in the dark that if you put your camera on continuous and rip off at least five shots that the middle images has a high probability of being sharp even at 1/2 sec.
© nevada wier Sri Lanka, Kandy Esala Perahera
… sometimes there just are times when one needs a tripod! Some subjects beg to be sharp with a substantial depth of field in low light situations.
© nevada wier Sri Lanka, Dambulla Rock Cave
…95% of the boring photographs are taken straight on. Get low, get high, get a new lease on your physical perspective.
© nevada wier Sri Lanka, Negombo Beach
and if you don’t have any idea what you doing, just try… if you don’t click the shutter you are 100% guaranteed to fail!
© nevada wier Sri Lanka, Kandy Esala Perhera Elephant Festival
So here I sit in LAX, waiting for my plane to New Delhi. I won’t be carrying my usual retinue of gear; but having a creative perspective is of more importance than another lens. I’m looking forward to the simplicity of only using a lens or two, although I know it will feel quite strange. My new mantra: “Don’t forget to move…but move slowly and carefully!”
© nevada wier 2009 Rajasthan, India
I just received an email asking me about the above image that was in my recent show Outer India at the Verve Gallery in Santa Fe, NM. I was leading a National Geographic Expedition to Rajasthan last year (great fun!) and we were photographing on the Sam sand dunes outside of Jaisalmer. It was a beautiful evening and had the good fortune of meeting a caravan of travelers who were willing to spend some time with us on the sand dunes. I photographed wide, long, standing, lying down and then.. said “Lensbaby“! So I pulled out my Lensbaby Composer and starting photographing. I decided to try an panoramic. So I shot a series of images with the idea of merging them. I knew it would be tricky but I did find two images that were clicked seconds apart that worked perfectly when stitched together (I used the miraculous Photomerge in Photoshop CS5). As I have written before, I choose not to crop or change any content in my images, so these are two intact images stitched together. Pretty cool! Otherwise there is no way to create this kind of double selective focus. I could have achieved this with a tilt-shift lens but I find the Lensbaby works best in motion situations. I love it when what I see is a catalyst for a creative image.
I’m leading another National Geographic Expedition to Rajasthan this fall. If your interested in this year or next you can get more information at NationalGeographic.com
Last month I taught two workshops, Creativity and Travel Photography, for the Santa Fe Workshops. I love teaching (and working as a Mentor also), although I don’t have time to teach more than two or three a year. I had two remarkable groups and they inspired me as much as, I hope, I inspired them. You can see their final shows here and here (week 2).
At the end of the first week one of the members of the class handed me a piece of paper with two questions and asked if I would answer them. They were brilliant, although I remember fumbling through the answers. However yesterday, just hours before I was leaving for a flight to Sri Lanka, I found the paper on my desk. Since the luggage was loaded in my car; I decided to think about my answers a bit more coherently. I got most of the way through them, then it was off to the airport. Now I’m on the 15 hour flight from LA to Bangkok, (then to Colombo) and am finishing the post.
What are 10 Things you are glad that you knew when you decided to become a professional travel photographer? So, in no particular order, here they are:
- Because of my experience as a river guide, rock climber and Outward Bound instructor I learned the difference between perceived risk and actual risk. A very valuable distinction to have when one is traveling in foreign countries.
- Also because of my previous experience as a guide and instructor, I knew not to projection my thoughts, feelings, or interpretations on anyone else. I learned that there is no way to really know what someone is thinking, unless you ask or give them space to answer, verbally or non-verbally. Presume nothing; expect everything.
- I knew that I had some great traits for a traveler: I can handle alcohol; I can sleep anywhere; I have an “iron stomach”; I have a bad sense of smell; and I remain very calm in times of stress or uncertainty. All very useful for the solo traveler
- It was very clear that I was “born to roam”. I didn’t care about getting married and having a family; I just wanted to travel. And, I was passionate about photography.
- I knew that there is no such thing as luck. Luck is everywhere; it is just a matter of taking advantage of it.
- I am glad that I had brilliant teachers who taught me to think creativity and write coherently. I am also glad I learned how to type.
- I am glad I began photographing with black and white film and taught myself the fundamentals of working in a darkroom.
- I am also glad I used fixed focal length lenses and was forced to move to fill a frame.
- Although I was not a painter, I admired and studied artists from historic to contemporary. I understood the power of color, and why the color wheel was important in art.
- I knew that it was never going to be an easy field in which to make a living. And, that it was best to keep my overhead very low.
What are 10 Things you wish you had known when you decided to become a professional travel photographer? Again, in no particular order, but notice that most have to do with business:
- That photography is 80% about business, not photography. I really should have hung out with MBA students and not river guides and rock climbers (for potential boyfriends).
- Just about everything that had to do with photography since I am self-taught—which means that the teacher knew very little.
- It took me awhile to figure out that it was useless to try and photograph what I saw, since slide film can only render about four stops of contrast range, while my eyes could see about 16 stops. Really, I was just using reality to express my perception of it.
- That there is a difference between marketing and business and you have to be great at both.
- That many clients do not understand that photographers need to make a decent living also (especially non-profit organizations) and are always asking for free images. And, that it was never a good idea to give into these requests without some kind of compensation.
- That one should buy a house young to build up credit and equity. Invest in yourself but also in other ways.
- Those credit cards are essential, but evil.
- That I should never have carried such heavy cameras bags or pack packs.
- That computers would eventually rule my life (well, maybe it good that I didn’t know that actually)
- That no matter how recognized I would become in photography, the phone would never ring on its own. I would have to hustle and reinvent myself all the time.
And now you ask…
What would I like to know now? How to clone myself since I have to keep hustling!
Check out this post I wrote for the Singh-Ray blog!
“Traveling the back roads and narrow trails of Asia, Africa and South America for hours at a time to reach the world’s most remote tribal areas and cultures gives National Geographic photographerNevada Wier plenty of time to think about the gear she takes with her… what stuff is important and what might not be. “Believe me, my filters are important. In particular three kinds of Singh-Ray filters go with me everywhere. There’s a Hi-Lux filter on each of my lenses, and I also carry a 77mm LB Warming Polarizer and a 77mm Vari-ND filter. Each one of these filters is essential and fits neatly in my camera bag that I have to carry around all day.
“I keep a Hi-Lux UV filter on each lens because I want the best possible glass between my lens and the world. I photograph in extreme elemental conditions — rain, snow, fog, hot days, cold nights… you name it. I’ve learned the importance of protecting my valuable lenses. However, I do not want a filter that degrades my image quality so I always go with the Hi-Lux.
To read the rest go to … http://singhray.blogspot.com/2010/06/on-narrowest-trails-in-most-faraway.html
Chattisgarh. India 2009
I’m back in blogging mode. I looked at the comments people made in my poll “I would like you write more about…” and it is time to answer your questions. The overwhelming category in which you are most interested is Creative Photography. I’m thrilled about that because creativity is the heart and soul of photography. It is not enough to just aim the camera at a spectacular subject and click the shutter; anyone can do that. You have reach in and grab the essential moment in a personal and creative way. So I’m going to continue to address this over the summer months.
Also, in the comments section, a number of you asked me to write about The Editing Process. I think learning how to edit your images goes hand-in-hand with being a a Virtuoso of Seeing. Recently I was having a critique session with a photographer whose photographic method mostly meant aiming the camera at an interesting subject, then cropping it into an interesting photograph during editing, and then saturating the heck out of it! I was amazed (and horrified to be honest) at this process. It seemed bass-ackwards to me. If you have taken a workshop with me you know that I’m all about “Get it all in the frame and get it right”. Since I evolved from world of slide film and picky editors, I learned very early on that I had to have it perfect in that slender piece of celluloid–no cropping and no changing of content (of course that wasn’t possible in the pre-Photoshop era).
During my travels I have absolutely no desire to document everything in front of me. I am wandering about enjoying myself waiting for that spark of synchronicity with a subject (whether it be animate or inanimate). When I find a subject that touches me then it up to me to interpret it creativity and honestly. Sometimes it is just one click of the shutter, but other times there is time to work it. Usually I am looking for not just one interpretation, but many. Many, many, many if I can. If it is a great subject, then keep evaluating and sensing and thinking until the moment is over, or the person is gone, or it just feels over.
I want to come home and look through a lot of good images and find A Great One. Click and keep on reading, it’s good stuff!