Digital Travel Photography

Text: 2014© Garry Benson 

Discovering your personal vision


Digital Travel Photography with Garry Benson

Digital Travel Photography with Garry Benson

I first picked up a camera at the age of seven, and that’s over fifty years ago. To say the least, technology has changed. Books in my personal library that deal with equipment from ten or more years ago have very little bearing on today’s automated digital cameras, lenses and flashes.

Yes, the fundamentals of setting exposures via shutter, lens aperture and ISO speeds are still relevant, but technology has provided us with instant feedback and hopefully a new way of thinking about making our images better. Moreover, sophisticated software programs like Photoshop have allowed photographers to finish their images as they had envisioned it in their mind’s eye.

However, there is one constant that doesn’t change but rather evolves and that is personal vision. I loosely describe personal vision as the manner in which each of us uniquely sees a scene photographically. Books dealing with good composition will stand the test of time no matter what type of technological wonder is used as a capturing device. This is true because travel photography is all about capturing light – great light! What means we use to capture it (film or digital) is really irrelevant.

If an image is great, it will stand the test of time regardless of what medium was used to record it. It’s the image itself that speaks to the hearts and minds of the viewer. But before we head off into the very individualistic area of what makes a great image, let’s start with some basics.

That Magic Moment
One of the most difficult parts of digital photography that new users have trouble getting used to is the inevitable time delay that occurs between pushing the button on the camera and capturing the picture.

Digital cameras have more to do in preparing to take a photo than film cameras. Like film cameras, they have to focus the lens. However, they also have to take a pre-exposure to get proper colour balance!

The good news is that they are able to achieve better exposed, better colour balanced and in many cases better focused images than film cameras. The bad news is that this takes a fraction of a second and could cause you to miss a great picture.

What can you do about it? There are a couple of approaches that are very effective.

The simplest is to just push the shutter button down half way as you’re waiting for the action to develop. Keep it there until you are ready to shoot, and then press the rest of the way.

Pressing half way signals the camera to immediately choose focus, color balance, and exposure. The subsequent delay when you take your shot is now quite small, comparable to film cameras. When I am shooting I keep the shutter button half depressed, and I get great shots.

A second approach is to switch to manual exposure and focus. If lighting is stable, as it is indoors, this works rather well. Most digital cameras have tremendous depth of field (sometimes too much) so focus is not critical but sometimes you want to have a very small depth of field to emphasise the subject. Using a telephoto lens will often achieve this result, but watch out for distracting backgrounds.

Set your focus for a typical distance, and you will probably be happy with the results. If this is an indoor sporting event, you will want the shutter speed as high as possible, so choose maximum aperture and adjust shutter speed for proper exposure.

That’s just a short intro to this subject – Tracey has asked me to write a regular column about travel photography & I’ll be using some of my images as examples. I was trained as a cinematographer after leaving school at 15 to take up the apprenticeship. Part of my training was to load rolls of 35mm B&W film from a 30mm roll and take lots of shots every weekend. I then had to bring the proof sheets back to work on the Monday and the whole staff would critique my shots. When I finally became a pro cinematographer shooting newsreels on 35mm for Cinesound, I received back a shot by shot ‘rip’ sheet that gave feedback on each shot, how much film I used and how much I wasted. I soon learnt a fair bit about composition and story telling.

To close, a few hints about travelling with cameras. I take two cameras with me on trips – depending on the location a small pocket size camera (like the Lumix DMZ-TS5) that’s also water & shock proof (it does rain a lot in SE Asia and London!). I also take either a Nikon D300 series with a good long lens or a Lumix FZ150 . The Lumix has a Leica lens with a range of 24-600mm but it doesn’t poke out about a metre from my body and can do a really superb job of photographing things like full moon (from a tripod).

Full Moon by Garry Benson

Full Moon by Garry Benson

So must I look like a photographer to local thieves? I try not too.

  • I carry my camera inside my jacket with the strap around my neck – just around my shoulder it’s easy to snatch.
  • Keep your gear in something like a backpack but don’t advertise by having big Nikon or Canon signs all over it.
  • Close the top of your case between shots – sometimes a bicycle lock is handy.
  • When I put my photo case down I put my foot through the carry strap.
  •  I always walk on the building side of the footpath with the camera and/or case on that side to avoid motorcycle thieves.
  • I store the memory cards + small (500gb) external drives in the room or hotel safe after backing up to either my laptop or the Cloud.

So that’s the first column. In future articles I’ll give lots of practical hints from my experiences as a photojournalist & cinematographer – that ‘may’ help you take better travel images. Any feedback on the above is welcome – you can teach an old dog (me) new tricks!