Your personal knowledge and experience will dictate your expectations.
If you are taking an instamatic and one roll
of film, your expectations probably fall in the range of none-to-low.
If you give it any thought at all, its "the guy at Revco will
have the prints ready the next day". The first piece of advice
is to chuck the instamatic (sorry Kodak--we make up for it later),
and buy a good 35mm single lens reflex (SLR) camera. The cost, when
averaged over its life, is negligible. These cameras are designed
with the photographically challenged in mind. Auto focus, built-in
flash, several lenses in one (wide angle, normal, and telephoto) are
standard features designed to make picture taking fun and easy. With
a 35 mm SLR, you can't forget to take the cover off--if you don't
remove it , you see nothing! Ideally, you should get one with automatic
and manual features (just flip a switch), because after you get comfortable
with it, you'll want to try some of the special effects discussed
later. Even loading film is now idiot proof. However, as easy as the
operation of the latest cameras are, you should have realistic expectations.
For example, a 36-exposure roll of film does not necessarily equate
to 36 great pictures. My personal experience over the years have taught
me that getting 10-12 "good" pictures or 2 to 4 "great"
pictures from a roll of film is realistic. Lets explore some of the
methods (these are the tips I promised) to increase your chances of
improving your travel photos.
Show Me the Light
Available light and the time of day are probably the most important
factors to consider, because photography IS exposing film to light.
Indoor light or outdoor light, low light or bright, noon-day light--these
conditions will determine which film you should use. The best times
of the day to expose film are in the morning and the afternoon.
The light is less harsh, and the colors are more pleasing. Contrary
to what some might think, one of the worst times is high noon on a
sunny day. This creates a new set of problems. The strong shadows
cast by the high sun causes too much contrast--that is, the brights
are too bright and the darks too dark, with too few tones in between.
Flash can eliminate some of the contrast and will freeze motion, but
its value is limited to short distances.
The speed of your film (ISO rating--the higher the number, the faster
the film). The less light you have available, the faster the film
speed requirement. However, the faster the film , the more grainy
the results (the appearance of which comes from the little silver
particles in the film emulsion). Sound complicated? Start with a good
middle of the road film speed such as 100-200. Its fast enough to
help in low light, but stable enough to prevent graininess.
Work with the light at your back whenever possible. This only
works with static subjects, of course. Developing action doesn't
care where the light is. However, never face the sun to take a picture
unless you are convinced its the only shot you will have. Through-the-lens-light-metering
tells the camera you have too much light. It compensates, and the
front of your subject is thrown into shadow. The downside to this
is the subject, if human, is permanently recorded with a squinty look.
A the Artist Inside
Think in terms of composition and balance. Use natural and
imagined frames to compose a scene. For example, frame a scene looking
out a window--certainly a natural frame. Use overhanging branches
to frame a photo of a house. You get the idea. Use the rule of thirds
to affect a balance. That is, divide your frame into thirds--either
vertically and horizontally to suit the subject. Then use the imaginary
grid to place the image.
Fill the frame. This can be the most effective composition.
If you fill the frame, you've solved the question of composition and
balance. However, you might want to avoid my experiences
Little Things Do Make A Difference
Protect your film. Store it in a cool, dry location prior
to use. Never place a film container in the sun for any length of
time. Heat can ruin the emulsion. Professionals routinely refridgerate
Keep the camera lens clean. Dust particles and smudges can
ruin an otherwise great photograph. It's very time consuming and expensive
to retouch photographs. The best protection (and cheapest insurance)
is to purchase an inexpensive UV (ultraviolet) filter. One can be
had for approximately $8 to $15. These little items not only filter
out unwanted ultraviolet rays, but they protect the camera lens itself--better
to scratch or crack the filter than the lens.
Standardize the film you use--at least until you are comfortable
with the results. The bewildering array of choices regarding which
film to use (brand, color or B&W, print or slide, indoor or outdoor,
speed) can be countered by standardizing. However, this makes it even
more important to take more than you think you'll need. Start with
Kodak's Gold 100 film, or any of their slide films. Kodak has
all those years of research and development going for it--you can't
go wrong. Fugi would not be a bad second choice.
Use a Tripod--You can literally eliminate those accidentally
blurred--and very frustrating--forgetable photos. A decent tripod
can cost as little as $30, and leave you wondering how you got along
Start with slide or transparency film. Transparencies
afford you the greatest flexibility. You can always make prints from
slides. Transparencies retain the most accurate color data, which
is critical if you want to use your photos for other media such as
prints, CD-ROM digital files, JPEG format for the World Wide Web (in
reality, JPEG digital files use less color information due to limitations
on the Web, but you are better off starting with all color information
and reducing it for other uses, than starting with too little color
data). Furthermore, transparencies retain the luminesance of the original
scene on a computer screen. The only downside is you can't color correct
transparencies, though resulting prints from the transparencies can
be color corrected.
Take the film you'll need with you, and take more than you think
you'll need. Film can be much more expensive and difficuly to
find when you arrive at your destination.Take extra batteries.
The camera won't work without them, and some camera batteries aren't
sold everywhere regular batteries are sold. If you are travelling
to a foreign location, customs regulations, availability of film and
batteries become even more critical.
Film processing and preservation--drugstore vs professionals--are
options too few people consider. Drug and department stores promise
film and prints overnight, with double prints and a great price. However,
they can do this because the entire roll is processed and printed
without consideration to individual exposures. Professional processing
at a camera store might cost a little more, but special instructions
such as lighting conditions used or other special circumstances dealt
with more professionally. Custom labs are even more expensive,
but they allow you even more control.
Okay, you've planned your shots and executed them while incorporating
as many of the tips above as possible. Are you through? Photo preservation
is the "followup" referred to earlier. Assuming you took
transparencies as recommended above, its now time to back them up.
You can make prints from the transparencies, transfer the images digitally
to CD-ROM, or create a collage on videocassette or film for use at
family gatherings. You can even add special effects such as music,
graphics, commentary. Your last act is to store the originals
as you did before you began--maintain the transparencies in a cool,
If this brief series of tips has piqued your
interest in making the effort to take better pictures, you might want
to try some special effects--experiment!. While special effects are
outside the scope of this article, give some thought to trying some
of the following:
- Timed exposures of lights at night, particularly moving objects
- Try a panorama shot using a tripod:
snap a picture; turn the head of the tripod just enough to have your
second exposure overlap the first, and so on until you have 4 or 5
overlapping shots you can position in your album later on.
outdoor film indoors renders warm tones
- Deliberately allow an object in motion to blur.
- Try black and white film (our eyes see in color, so black and white
forces us to look at things differently.
[ Back to Top
(1) Buy a good 35mm camera. You can pick up a good used one for under
(2) Standardize. Buy one type of film (try Kodak's consumer color
slide film, Elite II) and use it until you are comfortable with the
results. Then try other stuff (Kodak's professional speed film with
an ASA of 25--if you expose this stuff correctly, you'll think about
(3) Invest in a tripod. At least try the small ones that collapse
to the size of one of those small umbrellas. When you experience their
importance you will naturally graduate to a larger, more stable variety
(4) Protect your equipment. Use a padded carrying case. Keep film
in a cool, dry, dark place until you use it. The best place to store
film long-term is in the refridgerator! Invest in a UV filter.
(5) "Squeeze off" lots of shots. Don't wait for the "perfect"
photo. More often than not, perfect shots just happen. If you are
clicking away, your chances are improved. Professionals will use two
dozen rolls a day. I use 3 or 5 rolls a day. The novice might take
one or two rolls of film along and nurture them for the duration of
the trip. Who do you think ends up with several really great photos?
(6) Bracket your shots. Be pleased with 10-12 good photos per 36-exposure
roll. Be ecstatic with 2 or 3 great ones!
(7) Get professional quality processing.
(8) Properly preserve your results.
(9) Finally, obtain some good books on photography and read them.
Several suggestions are listed below.
[ Back to Top
There are any number of books on photography in general and travel
in particular, but to get a true artist's perspective by arguably
photography's greatest technician, read Ansel Adam's "The Camera",
"The Negative", and the "The Print"; Little, Brown
and Company, Boston. 1984.
If you want to learn more about taking good photographs, and just
haven't concentrated on doing something about it, then maybe a workshop
is the right path for you. If you can chuck everything and like the
idea of getting involved in a photography project for a week, then
you can have the encouragement of being surrounded by people who are
serious about photography, have a truly unique vacation, and have
an instructor by joining
Other Web Links
If you want to see good travel photos and their presentation along
with another photographer's perspective, visit http://photo.net/philg/
We're interested in other points of view, tips, and experiences.
This is the forum to share them: