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How I Travel with a Camera

27th September 2012

…or improving my photographic memory
I’ve traveled by plane so often that the routine of traveling overseas has become old hat.

But for this trip, I am diligently recording the steps that I follow with the goal of creating a checklist that other travelers may find handy if they too want to have a photographic memory of their travels.

Choose your weapon
Sadly I have more photo equipment than I could ever use at one time. This trip I am taking a lightweight camera with an all-in-one (wide angle to telephoto) zoom lens.

My experience has taught me to take fewer pieces of equipment to save space and weight. Besides the camera, don’t forget the battery charger and extra memory cards. I almost always take a notebook computer to review and backup my photos.

Luggage rack
To save time and avoid the lost luggage syndrome, I rarely check my bags with the airlines. Instead I use a small roll-on-board suitcase and a backpack. My backpack is designed for photo equipment and has a well-padded compartment for my notebook computer. The tendency is to fill the backpack to capacity but you may have second thoughts as you’re rushing to make a tight connection from Gate A-1 to Gate F-99 with 40 pounds hanging from your shoulders while you drag your roll-on-board in tow.

Suggestion: lighten your load; your back will be forever grateful.

Reservations please
I enjoy taking photos from the airplane window. If you book your airline reservations far enough in advance you may be able to reserve a window seat. As I’m mostly traveling in the northern hemisphere I try to reserve a seat on the left side of the aircraft when traveling east or north and on the right side of the aircraft when traveling west or south. By doing this you’re avoiding the direct sun in the aircraft window.
At the Airport
Put your camera away at security – the TSA staff are all camera-shy.

After you’ve passed through security, snap a photo at your gate to record your flight and destination. Is there a window overlooking the tarmac? Take a shot of the aircraft that you’ll be flying. Are you traveling with others? You’ll want to capture their faces too. Are you traveling to or through an airport that is new to you? Take a picture of that barnstorm plane hanging from the ceiling or the museum pieces on display in the corridors. Many airports are filled with elegant artwork and designs. Take time to smell the roses as you’re passing through.

In the Air
Recording the progress of your flight may be difficult. If you happen to have a window seat you may be in luck. However, if the sun is shining brightly on your side of the aircraft, there will be a lot of flare. Or if the skies below are cloudy, you’ll have a very restricted view of the terrain. If you’re traveling overseas, you may be flying during the night.

Should you have a clear view, set your camera’s shutter speed to 1/250 second or faster to minimize blur. Remember that during takeoff and landing you’re closest to the detail on the ground. These are both good times to capture your flight.

Arrival and the Sites
Here’s where the real photographer in you blossoms. Get out there and snap, snap, snap.

Most likely, you already have a list of the landmarks and attractions that you want to photograph. The tendency is to step back and include everything in your photos. Try stepping forward a little to include less (but closer) detail. Instead of posing people, it’s interesting to catch people in action. To prove that you were there, is there someone who can take your picture too?

What about the local customs and curiosities of your destination that are different from home? The foods, architecture, landscape and transportation may all be unique to this area. Why not record these?

Backing up your photos
I mentioned earlier that I almost always travel with a notebook computer. I’ve also made it a habit to copy my photos from the memory card (SD or CF) to my notebook computer daily.

Additionally, I make a backup copy of these digital files to a thumb-drive. Afterwards, I keep the thumb-drive in a place separate from my notebook computer. This gives me two copies of my travel images.

Returning Home
Don’t relax just yet. The reverse flight home may give you a better opportunity for in-flight photos than the flight there.

On my return flight home, I had a connection at Newark (New York area). Having grown up in New York, I knew that the Statue of Liberty was sitting in New York Harbor to the south of Manhattan so I was prepared to snap a photo during arrival. Again, having a window seat was the key.

Following are some of my “photographic memories” from my travels to Germany and Switzerland that hopefully illustrate this article – arranged chronologically.

Happy travels.

Written by Arnie Lee

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Our Newest eBook

30th March 2012

28 Tips for Better Photographs

There’s nothing pretentious about this book’s title. We’ve packed this inexpensive eBook with a large set of easy-to-follow tips and hints that are guaranteed to improve your picture-taking.

What’s more is that these simple techniques produce great results whether you use a modern DLSR, a point-and-shoot or a cell phone camera.

Those amazing photos posted by others on Facebook or Yahoo for example, are well within your reach.

It takes just a short while to master these tips which can transform yours into amazing captures too.

For each tips, we show you “before” and “after” photos so you can immediately see the result of each technique.

28 Tips for Better Photographs is available as an eBook for iPad, iPhone, Kindle reader, B&N Nook reader and universal PDF format. For more information, please click here.

* Stay Focused is part of Abacus. Abacus has been publishing books and software since 1978 making it one of the pioneers in the industry.

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Having grown up in the late 60s, I was excited to learn that one of my contemporaries – James Taylor – was going to be performing in Grand Rapids on March 8th. I anxiously waited for tickets to go on sale, but they were quickly sold out in less than an hour. Fortunately, I found two available last minute tickets through StubHub so I was still in luck.

Through the years, I’ve done my fair share of event photography. But nowadays when I go to a concert or show, I’m usually attending as a spectator and not as a working photographer with a press pass. Since one of my hobbies is to collecting pictures of celebrities, I continue to take a small camera with me – just in case.

Typically, show venues are a mixture of dark backgrounds with strong spotlights. For effect, the performers are often “creatively lit” (read dimly). This stage lighting makes for a very contrasty scene.

So the challenge is to be able to use the theater’s available light to capture the performers. Flash is a no-no.


Wait for the right moment
Arnold McCuller

Although my camera is set for dim lighting (ISO is set to 1600), the dim lighting forces a slow shutter speed – in this case about 1/25 second. Here the performer is moving slightly so I end up with a blurred image. Performer: Arnold McCuller
Arnold McCuller

The solution to the blurred image is to carefully watch the performer and snap when he/she is in a more or less stationary position. With a little practice, you’ll be able to anticipate the times when the performer is positioned like a statue.

Adjust the exposure
James Taylor

Most cameras determine the exposure by averaging the amount of light in a scene. On a dark stage with bright spotlights, the camera is usually “fooled” by the darkness. This overexposure causes the brightly lit faces to be washed out. Performer: James Taylor
James Taylor

To prevent the his face from being washed out, I set the camera to reduce the exposure. For this shot, I used the camera’s exposure compensation to make a -2 (f/stop) adjustment. Although his guitar is darker, his face is now properly exposed.


For stage performances, you can use relatively inexpensive equipment. On this occasion I used a Canon SX210 IS point-and-shoot which has a 14X optical lens. Our seats were fairly close – the seventh row – but the lens allowed me to zoom in to grab a decent shot.

Just a quick note about courtesy: The auditorium was filled to the brim. Everyone paid for tickets with their hard-earned money so I go out of my way to keep as unobtrusive as possible when taking photos. I’m careful not to put my camera in front of another spectator and to be silent as I snap (usually a menu selection for “silent mode”). They are there for the performance, not to be disturbed by a rude and noisy picturetaker.

And since my real reason for being at the concert was to hear the performance, I make sure that I get to enjoy the music without being overly preoccupied with my camera. And by the way, the performance was great!

You can see more celebrity photos from my hobby celebrity collection here.


Written by Arnie Lee


Kids Tip # 5

06th November 2010

Taking pictures of kids is one of the most popular uses for digital cameras. This is another article that we present to you for taking better kids pictures.

To Pose or not to Pose – the case for Candids
When you ask a child to pose, you may get varying reactions, looks and faces. If your subject is cooperative you’ll probably end up with a nice portrait. But sometimes, catching your little one candidly – in a “surprise moment” – can often produce a more pleasing photo.

For this shot, we asked the young boy to smile for the camera. He cooperated with this open mouthed smile, but his pose otherwise seems kind of static.

Later in the day, we found him playing near the pool. Instead of posing him, we called out his name, he turned and we captured him looking more natural.

For this photo, the young lady was quite aware that we were taking her picture. We captured her with a nice smile

Using a telephoto lens, we waited patiently. She was unaware that we took this candid shot with a more relaxed look.

Here again we asked the young girl to stop what she was doing to take this shot. She cooperated by giving us a generous smile.

In this photo, you can see that we were able to capture her inner smile. We didn’t ask for one yet her running activity produced a great one.

Of course these tips are subjective and there is no right nor wrong way – especially if the subject is your own child! Candids are just another tool to add to your gadget bag.

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Action Tip # 6

25th October 2010

Continuous Shooting

Most digital SLR and many point-and-shoots have a feature called continuous shooting that lets you capture several photos in a very short period of time. This is also referred to burst mode. So at the soccer game, by keeping the shutter depressed you can capture your star player as she runs towards the action, swivels her leg into launch position behind her, quickly drives her kicking shoe forward and finally strikes the ball.

On a recent outing, I caught one of our future diving stars practicing at the pool. With the camera set to take continuous photos, I quickly fired off nine shots as she made her big leap into the water.

Pressing the shutter was the easy part.

After reviewing the photos, I wanted to be able to show the young girl’s diving exploits to others. One method is to make a composite of the action. Here’s a miniature composite:

Making a larger composite makes it easier to see the detail of each frame. However, the time and expense may cause you search for an alternative if you’re planning to make many such composites.

Another way to show these is to convert the nine individual frames into a movie. One free and easy way to do this is to use Picasa 3*.

After starting Picasa, I added the nine photos to my library. Next I highlighted these nine frames and clicked on the Movie icon (towards the bottom of the screen).

For Transition Style, I chose Disolve.

For Slide Duration, I chose 1.0 second. You can choose a longer time which lets you study each frame more, but I prefer the shorter duration which makes the action seem to flow more naturally.

For Overlap, I chose 100%. For the diving action, this setting seems to provide the best effect.

Then I click on the Create Movie button. This converts the 9 individual frames into a short movie.

In just a few seconds, Picasa turns the images into a short movie with which you can enjoy the action with others. Click here to see the movie.

Yes, you can have a fun using the camera’s continuous shooting mode. But sharing the action with the world makes the fun last much longer.

* Picasa is available for the PC and Mac by free download from Google.

Portrait Tip #2

02nd September 2010

Portraits are one the most common type of photographs. We’d like to share some tips for taking better people pictures.

Direction of the Light

Shooting people outdoors offers a wide variety of lighting. Observe and take advantage of the direction from which it is falling on your subject.

Here the lighting originates predominantly from behind the subject. This backlighting produces shadows on much of the girl’s face.

For this shot, we turned the subject slightly so that the light is coming from the side. By doing this, we have added a more “rounded” and fuller look to the facial features.

Portrait Tip # 1

30th July 2010

Portraits are the most common type of photographs. We’d like to share some of our know-how for taking better people pictures.

Lighting Tricks
Portraits are usually composed using soft, even lighting. However, you can put strong and high contrast lighting to good use by carefully posing your subject.

This photo was taken in the shade where the light was soft. This type of lighting made the young girl’s skin tones equally soft.

Here, I’ve placed the subject in a location that has strong side lighting. I like the effect on the highlighted side of the face. Take care not to overexpose the highlights.

Kids Tip # 4

26th July 2010

Taking pictures of kids is one of the most popular uses for digital cameras. From time to time, we’ll present tips for taking better kids pictures.

Fill the Frame
When shooting portraits, the usual tendency is to carefully frame the subject in the viewfinder.

In this snapshot, we’ve left an even border around the head and upper body of the child. It makes for a nicely framed shot although the background is a little distracting.

For this shot, we moved in closer to fill the viewfinder with the child’s head. There is almost no border around the photo, yielding a more dramatic view of the child.

Event Tip #2

13th June 2010

For me, Gordon Lightfoot’s music tells interesting stories while his soothing melodies and talented guitar-playing have kept my attention for more than 40 years. With camera in hand, we went to hear him perform again in concert at the lovely DeVos Hall here in Grand Rapids.

Concerts and Stage Productions

Concerts and stage productions are most often set against very dark backgrounds such as this one. Since the camera sets the exposure by averaging the amount of light in a scene, a brightly lighted face is often overexposed.

The easiest way to prevent the performer’s face from being washed out is to reduce the exposure. For this shot, I used the camera’s exposure compensation to make a -2 (f/stop) adjustment. The face is now clearly visible.

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Action Tip # 4

03rd March 2010

Here in Michigan, we still have an abundance of snow. Rather than lock ourselves inside, we’ve decided to brave the winter weather and “enjoy”. After all, there’s plenty of life in the brisk cold.

Winter Wonderland

Here Kris is celebrating the completion of her snowman. Although the sun is shining, the yard is in the shade of the trees thereby keeping her face in the shade.

Simply by using the camera’s exposure compensation and increasing the exposure by +1, we’ve reduced the effect of the shade and made her smile standout more.

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