On a trip I just shoot, shoot, shoot…
Welcome aboard photo enthusiasts. I have just returned from a seventeen day visit to Columbia, enjoying stays in the old city of Cartagena, on the beaches of Santa Marta, in the mountainous coffee growing region around Pereira, and with a visit to the dynamic cosmopolitan city of Bogota. With all I saw I can tell you it is an amazing and beautiful country with wonderful people, and can I say… beautiful ladies. With any luck maybe I can marry one someday.
I took a lot of photographs to keep the memory and in capturing those universal visual gems. I don’t know the exact count, but it seems I took around three thousand. Having read my column over the years and knowing my background you may be thinking I used a professional level SLR. Nope, I took all of them on both my pocket Leica D-lux 3 and the Canon Powershot SX230 HS. There are several reasons to take these cameras for trips.
Possibly the most obvious is that these cameras are not so obvious. I felt perfectly comfortable and safe visiting Colombia, nevertheless the residents of the country hosting my visit remained concerned for my safety, and flashing a big camera may have been an appetizing candidate for thievery.
Smaller cameras are also less intimidating to others. The best shots, having a more editorial bent, are taken without attracting much attention, giving the small pocket camera a discreet advantage. Yes, as discussed in the last few articles there is a quality differential between a professional SLR and a pocket camera, but again for more editorial type of photography these little guys can work well.
Should there be select photos (and there are) for decorating the walls, there are respectable programs that do a great job enlarging photographs (Adobe PhotoShop, Alien Skin Blow Up, etc), but having taken a good quality photograph to begin with is imperative to achieve suitable results. With this in mind, reviewing my photographic thought patterns during my trip could be a useful exercise.
The modus operandi for photography on the entire trip was speed. This included quickly making decisions about technical matters, such as camera settings and creative decisions, such as composition. Regarding speed, on the one hand I had to consider that my hosts would be driving me around, so I had to have good timing if taking something from a moving vehicle.
Shutter lag was still a problem and I missed a few winners due to this especially when the Canon, which also eats batteries (and I brought four). Shutter lag can be improved by limiting functions, such as the LCD review, but you wouldn’t want to switch off the auto focus to reduce shutter lag.
When I asked to make stop for a photograph, I needed to be quick in consideration of those travelling with me for their patience. Speed is also important as part of the formula of not to be intimidating and getting the shots of people that often look best un-staged. Using a small camera is part of the answer, but making quick decisions of the best way of using them, allowing me to take a shot before being noticed doing so. So what are these decisions I most often found myself making?
First, digital photography (as opposed to film) offers a new approach to taking pictures, that is to just shoot-shoot-shoot, there are no film and processing costs. This approach works well in our fast paced society, and especially entering the hyper pace reached when travelling. When you are photographing street scenes in ports of call, minor visual details change by the second, so sequential shooting is a great option. The only drawback is all the eventual editing time that is needed to sort through all the shots taken.
I did find times when going to a manual setting seemed to work best. I noticed in “P” (program) mode, and I’m sure it would be the same in “auto” or “easy” mode, that in landscape shots distant mountains would completely disappear in the haze. In “manual” I’d lower the exposure just slightly to give them a little detail, which I will later bring up more using software.
Night indoor shots using flash I also do always in manual mode using a low shutter speed and a steady hand at around 1/10 to 1/20th of a second. Most camera have IS or image stabilization and this helps at these slower shutter speeds. This allows maintaining some ambient lighting to be maintained along with flash, making for an overall more pleasing results.
For other more scenic night shots the Canon did have a handy low light setting represented by a candle that worked very well. It was the quickest way to get to a fairly effective way to shoot at night… I’ll tell you more in the next installment, but for now let me leave you with a photograph and l take permission to come ashore.
James Schot has been a professional photographer for more than 35 years and has a studio/gallery in Ft. Lauderdale. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.