Category Archives: PHOTO TIPS

10 Steps To Getting Your Travel Photographs Noticed and Published

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“I take great pictures, how can I get my photos published?”

I picked up my first professional camera – the Nikon D90 – in November of 2008. The same month I packed my bags and went to Jamaica on sabbatical.

My first “major” publication came 8 months later, in the UK Guardian. And I wasn’t even pitching hard or living and breathing publication yet before that.

Three and a half years, lots of self- teaching and practice, one class and several publications and paid assignments later – I’ve learned a ton about this profession. And I still continue to learn.

For starters, let’s be clear – vacation photos are not the same as publication-worthy travel photographs. (I know. I had to say it.)

Seriously, if I had a penny for every person who thinks his or her photos are ready for publication I would be on a round-the-world trip right now. Nothing wrong with confidence but in this field, as in most, a blend of knowledge, hard work and realism will get you farther every time.

What was the one best thing I did from the start, besides learning and practice? I shared my work online. I had no strategy at first. I was just sharing my passion for travel, culture and music. I had always posted my vacation photos before, but when I went on sabbatical in 2008, it felt different. I was now documenting life in another country and traveling long-term, and I wanted others to learn and live through my photos.  Your objective may be another, but in the end, it comes down to sharing your particular message.

Below are basic guidelines for those who have a growing passion in travel photography and want to take it to the next level.

Ten tips and steps to getting started with “exposing” your work. Because that’s what you have to do first, for it to lead to publication and opportunities. It’s what I did and it worked for me.

1. Master the nuts and bolts of photography

There are no corners to cut – you have to learn and understand the basics of photography first. And after you learn, keep mastering them. Shoot every day if you can.

Yes, it takes just a little time to understand shutter speed, aperture, ISO and other important aspects. Growing pains, people. You simply must have a good grasp on the technical side if you want to go places in the publication world. Learn why some shots attract the eye more than others, how to avoid blown out photos, how to capture action and movement, and low light. You can >> Continue reading »

On Photography: The Basics of Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO & Difficult Lighting

How’d you get that shot? How do I shoot better at night? How about when there’s action?  How come my photo came out so blown out? (Oh and I’ll skip the priceless “well of course you get nice shots with an expensive, professional camera like that!” comments!) Folks, to truly make use of your SLR and to really understand photography , every budding photographer must learn and master the following basics first:

  1. Light
  2. Shutter speed
  3. Aperture
  4. ISO (also called Film Speed)

Yes it’s time-consuming, it takes practice, it can seem laborious maybe to some. But for better photos, it is the only way. You wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car without knowing how to drive, so same thing with an SLR. Not even buying the most expensive camera out there will “automatically” get you great, publication-worthy images. Buckle down, read, practice, understand, practice again. As a travel photographer, I’m constantly learning about the interplay between those elements and how to get the best possible image –  without sacrificing quality and without missing the “feeling” of the scene and moment I want to project. It’s all about balance – and of course, practice. How and what we we shoot -as well as how well we master these elements is eventually, what makes us stand out from the sea of photographers out there.



Before I move on to the key elements – I have to mention 3 things to think about before setting anything and shooting anything:

  • Is there Light? How much light is at the scene?  (day, night, moonlit, concert lit, bright lights, noon?)
  • What are you trying to capture? Who or what you are shooting?  What are you trying to show? How do you want to portray a person or thing?  Where is this person/thing – in light or not, moving or still? Do you want to capture the mood?
  • Shooting Manual or A Mode, S Mode: For beginners, it is always more helpful to start with the P mode, S mode or A mode.  Each camera is different but basically, these modes allow you to set ONE element on your camera (say Aperture for A mode, or Speed under S Mode) and the camera automatically sets the rest. Eventually, shooting manual is what allows you to set and control every setting – but it takes time to get to that level so take it easy to begin with. And even then, many of us still shoot in A mode or S mode, depending on the type of shoot and to obtain different results.

The Basics

1.  Setting the Shutter Speed

Speed is one of the key camera settings and elements to a photograph. Speed helps capture the motion in the picture (still or moving) and it also plays a role in the amount of light that comes into your camera as you shoot. Basic points to remember:

  • First, look at the scene and ask yourself: Is it daytime or nighttime, and what kind of lighting to do I have around the object/person? Is the object/person still or moving?  Do I want to show motion blur or do I want to freeze the action?
  • The more still your object, the lower the speed you need (ex. 1/60 s).  A slower/lower shutter speed allows more light to come in as you capture the image, because the shutter stays open longer when you “click.”  This is okay with still persons/objects.  But if there is movement, you would get a blur effect with a slow shutter speed.  So it depends on what image you are trying to convey. Example:  With waterfalls, a very slow shutter speed gives a more “real” feel to the image of the water flowing down continuously.

Waterfall shot at 1/160s, freezes the action, but shows less "actual mood or motion."

Waterfalls shot at 1/10s . A slower speed shows more motion (in daytime) and"drags" the action. You can almost feel the water flowing endlessly.

  • The higher/faster your shutter speed (say, 1/500), the more you can freeze a movement (again, assuming decent light).  However, a fast shutter speed lets in less light into your camera. In the daytime, that’s less of an issue. In the evening or nighttime, a high shutter speed does not allow much light in – and so you may need a lower shutter speed along with a tripod to get the image, unless the light is good enough to get by without a tripod and a low aperture and high enough ISO (see further below).

Shot at speed of 1/320s. A high speed setting freezes the action (in daylight).

2.  Setting the Aperture

The aperture setting or “f/stop” selection on your camera is what allows for those cool, shallow-background images – called “depth of field” or “bokeh” in photography-speak. It is also another element that allows for more light to enter the camea. Setting your camera in Manual or A(perture) mode, allows you to change the f-stop.

  • Low f-stop number = more light into the lens = good for low light scenes = good for focusing on foreground/blurring background. The lower the f/stop number selected (say f/2.8)  the larger the lens opening and the more light comes into the camera.  Think “small fstop, big light.”  Also, the smaller the f-stop, the more the image is focusing on the object you are shooting, blurring the background. This is great when you want to focus on only one element of the scene and blur out everything else.  “Fast Lenses” in photography-speak as lenses that can go as low as f/2.8 and are therefore better at capturing scenes in low light, and are therefore more expensive!
  • High f-stop = less light needed into the lens = good for well-lit scenes = good for focusing entire image. The higher you set the f/stop (say, f 11), the more focused the entire image is, instead of focusing only on the one object or person.  This is great for landscapes or big crowds where you want the entire image to be focused.

Shot at f/7. A smaller f/stop or aperture value lets in more light into the image.

Aperture at f/10 - A larger f-stop or "f-number" means less light into the camera.

Using Aperture to create “depth of field”:

Environmental Portrait of "Short-I," in Jamaica | Shot at f/3.5. A small f-stop value blurs the background and focuses on the foreground (here, the person).

Shot at f/9. A larger f/stop or aperture value means everything in the image is more in focus, including the background.

3.  Setting the ISO (Film Speed)

A third key setting before you start “snapping” away, is choosing the appropriate ISO or film speed on your camera.  ISO is yet another element that lets to let light into the camera – in addition to “aperture” or f-stop (see above).  These two let you balance out the need for light.

  • Light outside = Low ISO. The lighter it is outside, the less ISO speed you need (say, for instance, ISO 200). If it’s a cloudy day, you’d have to bump it up a bit or you can adjust the exposure values.
  • Darker outside = Higher ISO. If it’s night time and there’s low light, the ISO needs to be higher – say, 800 or 1600 depending on how much light there is at the scene. But you’ll also have to be careful not to set the ISO too high because that produces “noise” – that ugly grainy effect on your photos. The higher the ISO the faster the film speed,  but it’s up to the photographer to figure out the balance around the lighting available.  Most photographers do not go beyond ISO 3200.
  • Note:  the higher the ISO setting, the higher the shutter speed and aperture go.  And in cases of low light, flash helps, of course, as does a tripod. But practicing without the latter two will give you a good feel for the use of ISO speed setting.

Of course, ISO also interacts with the f/stop setting and the shutter speed setting to create the image you want.

Shot at ISO 400. Daytime requires less ISO, starting at ISO 200 is the norm. If you were to go above ISO 400 in the day, the image would appear too bright, blown out or even grainy. The above shot could be better at ISO 200. The aperture here is f/14 - large therefore allows the entire image to be in focus.

Tony Ruption at Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival 2010 | Shot at ISO 800 - the preferred setting for night when there is decent light. With concerts or performances, a well-lit stage means less ISO needed, and the ability to capture the "mood" of the moment better.

Traditional Dancer at Dia de San Pedro in Ambergris Caye, Belize | Shot at ISO 3200. Speed 1/125s. Poorer lighting means having to bump up the ISO value and getting a slightly "grainier" image (or "noise" in photography-speak). The right speed can also capture movement, but remember that a high speed also lets in less light. All about balance, again!

4.  Difficult Lighting

With concerts to cover in Jamaica, I had to quickly grasp the best way to capture artists on stage, especially since so often reggae artists are constantly moving or jumping. Sometimes the stage lighting is excellent – and other times, it’s downright dreadful. It’s always good to be prepared and know how shutter speed, aperture (f/stop), and ISO all come into play to help your task.

Drumming show at night on the beach with almost no lighting on the performers. High ISO of 3200, but times like these, a faster lens (1.8) as well as a faster speed than used above *might* help improve the image. But in such conditions, where there is no choice, resort to flash (and lose the lighting mood?) It's all about balance and what you can sacrifice to get the image!

Shot with flash, at ISO 800 | Show on the beach with zero lighting on the performers. I normally avoid flash at all costs, because I love capturing mood - but sometimes you have no choice, or you lose capturing the event altogether.

If there is little light – then you will need a higher aperture (remember, that means low f-stop value) and a higher ISO. At the same time, remember that an ISO setting that is too high can also leave the photograph looking “grainy” (also called “noise”).  In the end, the key is to balance all these elements to prevent noise and still achieve as effective a photo as possible, capturing the moment. Easy, right?

Practice makes perfect

Once you understand these basic camera settings, where they are on your camera and how to make them interplay, you are most definitely on your way. Of course there are a few other “basic rules” to photography and getting that great shot, but this is where you need to start. So get the camera out, fiddle with it, and get out out there and practice.  I still do!

ISO 1800, 1/160s, f/2.8 | Machel Montano @ Jamaica Jazz Festival 2010 | Capturing movement, mood lighting and feel without getting too grainy of an image | (c) Lebawit Girma

If you’re hungry for more, a great resource on photography is the Digital Photography School with lots of online free “how-to” articles and National Geographic also offers a free Ultimate Field Guide to Photography E-booklet –  all you have to do is go to this page, scroll down and on the right-hand side column under the heading “Newsletters,” enter your email to receive it in your inbox.