8 tips: How to take super vacation photographs
Shooting great vacation photographs, even with that new digital camera, takes smarts and know-how. To help you take terrific digital photos on your next trip and to add fun photo effects to them, Microsoft At Home asked top photo gurus for their professional photography tips. Badly taken vacation photographs can be awfully disappointing, but good ones are a lifelong treasure.
1. Power up
Learn to manage power—dead batteries ruin great photo ops. Always take two sets of batteries and a charger, says Jorge DaSilva, manager of Henry's School of Imaging. Use one set in the camera while the others set charges.
Or invest in a super-long-lasting, clip-on, rechargeable Lithium Ion power pack, which can be used with most digital cameras, suggests photo instructor Larry Frank, a senior product specialist at photo wholesaler DayMen Photo Marketing Inc.
The digital camera's LCD screen is a power hog—turn it off and use the optical view finder most of the time, Frank says.
Hint: Do use the LCD when shooting close-ups to help avoid inaccurately framed shots.
Find out what kind of power adapter you need for foreign countries—possibly a transformer or maybe just a plug adapter—and get it before you leave, says freelance nature and travel photographer Danny Catt. Travel-ready universal adapters that fit most cameras and outlets worldwide are now available. If you can't tell what you need from the camera's manual, ask the retailer where you bought it
2. Protect your gear
Digital cameras are very susceptible to water damage. After one of Catt's cameras got a little damp, "It was toast," he says. Stay away from water, and carry your camera in a waterproof bag.
Add a pack of silica gel to your camera bag to reduce moisture further, DaSilva suggests. You can buy one in camera stores.
When going through airport security, put memory cards in the plastic tray provided to avoid x-rays, metal detectors, or anything with a magnetic field.
3. Pack enough memory
The camera's manual should tell you how many shots at a given size and quality you can store on your memory card. Use this information to calculate the storage required for each picture, and then multiply by the number of pictures you expect to take
Conserve memory space by using lower resolution for shots you know you'll want to only print small or send in email, says DaSilva.
Hint: The largest files have the highest resolution. These files are the ones you need to use for making jumbo print enlargements.
Buy all the storage you need and maybe a little more before you travel, Catt says, so you can be sure it works.
Exploit your digital camera's greatest feature: Edit as you go—delete shots that don't work. You’ll save memory and get a good idea of what shots you have and what shots you still need to take.
Hint: Take the camera's AV cord (virtually all come with one), and plug it into a hotel room TV to get a better look at the pictures. If you travel a lot, get a camera that has playback for different television systems around the world.
4. Know your camera
Most digital cameras don't take the picture the split second you click the shutter, Catt notes. Try to anticipate the shot you want—click just before your subject fully emerges from the surf, for example. Then check the LCD to make sure you got it. If not, shoot again.
When setting exposure, if in doubt, err toward underexposure (too dark), Frank advises. Overexposed digital camera shots are prone to burnouts—bright parts of the picture rendered as pure white.
Hint: Avoid shots that include the sun, Catt says. If you have to shoot in full sunlight, shoot with the sun behind the camera.
Understand and exploit your camera’s creative manual options, Frank says. "Use a fast shutter speed to stop action, for example, or a slow shutter speed to create a pleasing blur when shooting a waterfall or something with implied movement."
Also, get to know and then exploit your camera’s advanced digital features, Catt urges. Many digital cameras help you shoot pictures that you can later "stitch" into panoramas using a computer. Some will even apply special effects, such as black and white, sepia tone, and polarization. "Sometimes you have to think outside the photographic box," he says.
5. Compose carefully
Make the main subject BIG. Fill the camera’s frame with it, so viewers can’t miss it. "Assume your audience has the attention span of a three-year-old," Frank advises. Don’t be afraid to get up close or to use your camera’s Magnify or Zoom feature to focus attention on your subject.
More often than not, avoid placing your main subject dead center. Imagine a tic-tac-toe grid overlaying the picture frame, DaSilva suggests. Try to place the subject at one of the grid's intersections.
DaSilva also suggest that you look for natural frames in the scene to better compose the main subject—a church spire framed by the arches of a cloister, for example.
When shooting landscapes and sunsets, Catt says, decide which is pictorially more important: land, water, or sky. If land or water, place the horizon in the top third of the picture, if sky, place it in the bottom third. Avoid putting the horizon in the middle.
Catt also suggests that you look for lines in the scene—a road or footsteps in the sand—and try to frame the picture so the lines lead the eye from the left toward your main subject.
For more suggestions on how to take a picture, especially that special photo you want to use in your holiday mailing, read 9 tips: How to photograph holidays and special occasions.
6. Know what to shoot—and when
Shoot more often in the half hour to two hours before and after sunrise and sunset. The low-angle light at these times produces dramatic and pleasing results, says DaSilva.
Hint: He also suggests that, when shooting in low light—outside or inside—you always use a lightweight mini tripod to hold the camera steady for the slower shutter speeds required.
"Try and look below the surface" when photographing your travels, Frank advises. Look for shots that capture something of the local ambience and culture.
Check calendars ahead of time for festivals and other special events you can shoot. Check out harbor areas and amusement parks. Shoot farmers' markets early in the morning when locals are shopping.
Hint: Learn a few words of the local language, and always ask people before taking their pictures. Most people will happily agree.
7. Add stunning photo effects
Cropping a photo can change an average photo into a dramatic one, especially if you crop "off center." Before you delete what looks like a bad shot, take another look and see if you can crop a corner or a portion of it. You can crop photos, remove red eye, and apply other cool photo effects with photo-editing programs, like Windows Live Photo Gallery, a part of Windows Live Essentials. You can download Photo Gallery and Windows Live Essentials for free.
Edit photos with Windows Live Photo Gallery
Hint: Before you start editing, make a working copy of your original image by saving it with a new file name. You can do this by opening the image and typing, for example, bw (for “black and white”) at the end of the filename when you save it to differentiate the working image from the original. For example, if the image file name is "Leaf," save the image as "Leafbw." When you do all of your editing on your working copy of the image, you can always start over with a fresh copy of the original if you don't like the results. Windows Live Photo Gallery has a convenient Revert to original button that you can use if you don’t want to save any of your editing changes after previewing them, but it’s still a good idea to save a copy of the original.
You can easily convert color photos to black and white by using your favorite image-editing program. With some camera models you can even do this in the camera before downloading the image to your computer. After the image is on your computer, you can use your image-editing program to adjust contrast and brightness to create a photograph that's reminiscent of an Ansel Adams print.
Hint: Silhouettes look terrific in black and white, as do old buildings. The effect adds drama. But be sure to reserve this technique for landscapes or buildings. Photos of family members in black and white may not be as warm as you want them to be.
Combine black and white and color in one image to dramatize your subject. For example, make the background of your shot of a little girl in a flowering garden black and white, and leave your main subject—the girl picking a flower—in color. You can apply this and other cool effects to your images with many of today's digital imaging software packages, like Adobe Photoshop Elements. Amazing photo effects like these used to be available only to professional photographers.
Can’t fit the whole mountain range or seascape into your camera’s frame? Try shooting multiple photos of the scene and using your computer to stitch them into a stunning panorama with Windows Live Photo Gallery.
Create a photo panorama in Windows Live Photo Gallery
Open Windows Live Photo Gallery, and then select the overlapping photos you want to use for your panoramic shot.
On the Create tab, in the Tools group, click Panorama. Type a file name for your new image, and then click Save.
Crop the photo to be the shape and size you want.
If you want even more perspectives on your subject than a regular panorama gives you, try Microsoft Photosynth. Photosynth uses Microsoft Research Image Composite Editor, an advanced photo stitching program that transforms regular digital photos into three-dimensional, 360-degree interactive experiences. This new service changes the way you experience and share photos. Please note that you have to download Photosynth and sign in with a Windows Live ID account to use or view photos within the Photosynth experience.
8. Organize and share what you shoot
Photo collages celebrate important events and themes in our lives. Pick a folder, press a button, and, in a few minutes Microsoft AutoCollage presents you with a unique memento to print or email to your family and friends.
Learn about more innovative ways to make the most out of your photographs on the Microsoft Photo Community blog.
Tell your vacation story. That's right,—your vacation is a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Capturing your photos in a way that tells the story is the first step in really taking your vacation home with you and sharing it with others.
Use Windows Live Sky Drive to share your photos with family and friends.
Article written by Gerry Blackwell and adapted from an original piece in Microsoft Home Magazine.
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