RV Travel Photography Tips

RV travel photography seems so simple.

Compose your photo simply. Remove all nonessential elements. Zoom in or move in. Photo above Fort Edmonton Historic Park, Edmonton, Alberta. Each part offers a unique look and feel. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Compose your photo simply. Remove all nonessential elements. Zoom in or move in. Photo above Fort Edmonton Historic Park, Edmonton, Alberta. Each part offers a unique look and feel. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What could be easier than traveling to a natural oasis full of majestic and spectacular beauty with a camera and a handful of memory cards and a spare battery and taking some amazing landscape photos?

But, when you arrive at your location, you find that it’s a lot harder to take a decent travel photo than it looks.

You take the RV trip of a lifetime with dreams of capturing those magical experiences. You anticipate a memory card full of captivating images to share with family and friends. But instead, you end up with mostly uninspiring photos that fail to do your adventure justice.

Digital is not difficult to shoot and good results are achievable, but one needs to know the basics of photography. Travel photography is easy once you master some basic techniques and secrets.

The combination of good lighting, the right exposure, and a suitable composition either make an photo outstanding or destroy it altogether.

By standing relatively close to the large rocks in the foreground I was able to accentuate them and lead the viewer’s eye into the middleground and mountains in the background. Also notice how the road in the middleground leads the viewer’s eyes through the image. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve
By standing relatively close to the large rocks in the foreground I was able to accentuate them and lead the viewer’s eye into the middleground and mountains in the background. Also notice how the road in the middleground leads the viewer’s eyes through the image. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The quality of light can make or break even the most carefully composed photo. The best light for landscapes occurs twice a day and is commonly referred to as the Golden Hour or Magic Hour. The Golden Hour is generally about an hour or so after sunrise and an hour or so before sunset.

In general, good photos result from careful attention to some basic elements of composition—the placement of the objects in the photo. It relies heavily on the photographer’s choice.

Photography is about seeing—how we COMPOSE what we see. In the process of making any photo, there are two important decisions to be made:

  • What to include in the frame
  • What to exclude from the frame
When you take a photo and choose where things are placed within the frame, know why you’re doing it. Photo above The Old Wine Truck at Red Rooster Winery in BC (British Columbia) Wine Country (Okanagan Valley). © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
When you take a photo and choose where things are placed within the frame, know why you’re doing it. Photo above The Old Wine Truck at Red Rooster Winery in BC (British Columbia) Wine Country (Okanagan Valley). © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Remember that less is more. Compose simply. Remove all nonessential elements.

Move closer. One of the most common mistakes of beginning photographers is to include too much in the photo. Help to draw attention to the most interesting part of a scene by subtracting anything that’s not interesting. Move in closer by getting closer, by getting lower, by whatever means it takes.

The Rule of Thirds is a powerful compositional technique for making photos more interesting and dynamic. The Rule of Thirds is based on the natural tendency of the human eye to be naturally drawn to a point about two-thirds up a page and towards sets of three. The Rule of Thirds states than a photo is most pleasing when its subjects are composed along imaginary lines which divide the image into thirds — both vertically and horizontally—so that you have nine parts.

We need to choose our composition carefully to convey the sense of depth that was present in the actual scene. Depth can be created in a photo by including objects in the foreground, middle ground, and background. The foreground should provide a clear and interesting pathway into the scene and lead the viewer’s eyes into the background.

Rather than only shooting from eye level, also consider photographing from high above, down at ground level, from the side, from the back, from a distance, from close up, and so on.

Notice how the Rule of Thirds is used in placing of the green heron with space for the bird to move into the frame.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Notice how the Rule of Thirds is used in placing of the green heron with space for the bird to move into the frame.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Try changing your point of view—get lower, get higher—and see how it affects your scene.

You drive up to the scenic lookout, get out of the vehicle, grab your camera, turn it on, walk up to the barrier, raise the camera to your eye, rotate left and right a little, zoom a little and take your shot before rushing off to the next scenic lookout.

However this process rarely leads to the WOW shot that we’re looking for.

Remember, taking digital photos costs nothing; so go out and experiment, shoot a lot, and see what you come up with.

Let’s not forget the most basic rule for shooting great photos: Take your camera with you everywhere you go…and take lots of photos.

You can’t “capture the moment” if you don’t have your camera.

Worth Pondering…

No matter how advanced your camera you still need to be responsible for getting it to the right place at the right time and pointing it in the right direction to get the photo you want.

—Ken Rockwell

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Freelancing & The RV Lifestyle

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars”.

RV Home OfficeThe above Jack Kerouac quote is quite resonant of our approach to RV travel and freelancing on the road. Rather than trying to achieve something by traveling, we look at RV travel as our lifestyle. We look for new experiences—the opportunity to explore the natural and man-made wonders of the US and Canada.

In this world of online magazines, guest posting, and columns, the line between journalist and blogger has become blurred. These days, if you enjoy writing, you can find paid work writing for websites and it’s a great way to support your RV travels.

If you’re going to start looking for paid writing gigs online, you’ll need to know where to look. First, determine what you’re passionate about. Whatever your passion may be, you’ll have more success finding work if you write about something you enjoy, rather than simply searching for the highest profits.

Since you’re reading this site, I’ll assume your passion is RV travel. There are numerous online magazines, websites, blogs and journals that are willing to pay travel writers for their work.

Each website will have its own budget for paying writers, for example: Vogel On The Road’s budget is $0. But most larger publications will pay anywhere from $25-$250 for an article, though the average rate is between $50-$150. Expect to be paid at the lower end of this scale at first, and then as you build up a reputation on the site, the webmaster may be willing to pay you a bit more.

RV Home Office
RV Home Office (Source: fulltimeroadwarriors.com)

Bloggers have a definite advantage when it comes to freelancing. Not only do they have an online portfolio. Freelancing is also great for bloggers because if you have an online presence, you can link back to your site from articles you’ve written elsewhere on the web. Links are valuable; if you’re getting paid to write and getting links back to your site from reputable domains, it’s a win-win.

An essential for your mobile RV office is being able to maintain access to basic office electronics and services like a desktop or laptop computer, external hard drive, Internet, a digital camera, wireless printer, and a smart phone (or flip phone).

There are numerous options for obtaining Internet access while RVing. In fact, you may need to use more than one method when RVing.

Digital cameras and RVing is a natural fit. What could be more natural than keeping a visual record of your RV travels? You can immediately edit and resize images then post them on social media, send them as email attachments, or publish them on your blog.

Find the right smart phone plan. Select a smart phone contract that gives you long-distance and roaming anywhere in the country for one set price.

RV Home Office
RV Home Office (Source: rvweb.com)

For safety’s sake, use a separate external hard drive to backup all of your files and store your photos. That way, if your computer’s hard drive crashes, you’ll still have everything on another drive—and be able to carry on.

Although working as a freelancer sounds tempting, it is not for everyone. Consider the following questions:

  • Are you going to work if nobody is telling you to do so?
  • Can you live with the uncertainty of not earning a steady income?
  • Can you live with not knowing where your income will come from next month?
  • Are you willing to dedicate a substantial amount of time to applying for assignments, customer relations, and following up with clients?
  • Are you willing to meet deadlines even if it means working all night and drinking substantial amounts of coffee?
  • Can you motivate yourself to complete your work assignments?
  • Do you have finely honed time management skills?
RV Home Office
RV Home Office (Source: pinterest.com)

Yes, you can take your life and work wherever your RV takes you.

Worth Pondering…

If you dig deep and keep peeling the onion, artists and freelance writers are the leaders in society—the people who start to get new ideas out.

—Allan Savory

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Sharing Photos

The Digital Photography and RVing series will now focus on the final step of digital photography: Sharing photos.

Capture a digital image of your RV travels and experiences with your camera is but half of the fun and enjoyment.

The other half is sharing your images with family and friends. Once an image is the way you want it, there are numerous ways to display and share it:

  • Print your own photos on quality photo paper
  • Have your photos printed at a photo kiosk, or submit your images to an online photo print website; try different photo printing services and see which one you like best and keep your eye out for special offers and deals
  • Email photos to friends or family members
  • Post your photos on a social network site such as Facebook, Pineterest, or Google+
  • Copy photos to a CD or DVD
  • Upload the photos to a Photo Gallery

Photo Galleries

One of the best ways to share digital photos is to upload them to a Photo Gallery.

Photo sharing sites are often free, but some charge a monthly or annual subscription fee. Some subscription sites have a limited free version. Some free sites use photo sharing as a means to get users to order prints or other photo-embellished merchandise such as mouse pads and coffee mugs.

Popular photo sharing sites include: Picasa. If you use Picasa to organize and edit your photos then Picasa Web Albums is an ideal choice.

The site offers 1GB of storage on a free account and you can publish photos from Picasa to your web album with one click of the mouse. I use Picasa as my photo sharing site. It allows you to upload photo albums and determine who can view those albums.

Flickr from Yahoo is the most popular photo-sharing site. Flickr is the big one; everyone’s heard of it and the site has over 3 billion photos.

Think of it as a social-networking site for photo enthusiasts. You can connect with other members and join groups. You’ll also find discussion boards.

Since it’s owned by Yahoo, you’ll first require a Yahoo account. A basic account is free and allows you to upload 2 videos and 100MB of photos per month. A Pro account costs $24.95/year and allows unlimited photo and video uploading and unlimited storage, plus you can upload high-res originals and use Flickr to archive them.

Photobucket. Probably best known for photo gifts and prints, Photobucket has been around since 2003 and boasts 25 million visitors per month in the U.S. alone. It’s free account offers up to 1GB of space for photos and videos combined and up to 25GB of traffic per month. A Pro account costs $24.95/year and provides unlimited storage, plus 10 percent discount on prints and photo products.

Snapfish. Snapfish offers 20 FREE 4×6 mail-order prints with your first upload. Snapfish, a division of HP claims to be the number one online photo service, with more than 90 million members in over 20 countries and 2 billion unique photos stored online.

With Snapfish, you’ll enjoy secure, unlimited online photo sharing and storage, prints for as low as 9 cents each, over 100 customizable photo gifts, from display-quality photo books and posters to photo mugs and jewelry, free online photo editing tools.

Shutterfly. Excellent customer service makes Shutterfly a good choice for new users of online photo services. You can also send invitations to family and friends to look at your images. You can create a customized site with free, unlimited storage.

Shutterfly offers prints, photo books, greeting cards, and dozens of photo gifts suitable for any occasion but it doesn’t require purchases. It says it has never deleted a photo.

Kodak Gallery was a popular site until it closed July 2, 2012 when it announced that Shutterfly would now provide photo services for former Kodak Gallery customers including moving all Kodak Gallery photos to Shutterfly.

Fotolog. Fotolog claims to be the world’s leading photo-blogging site and one of the world’s largest social networking sites. More than 22 million members in over 200 countries use Fotolog as a simple and fun way to express themselves through online photo diaries or photo blogs.

Phanfare. Phanfare, a subscription-based service offers a 14-day free trial.

Worth Pondering…

A photograph that has not been shared or at least printed is almost an unexistent photograph, is almost an untaken picture.

—Sergio Geribay

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Backing Up Digital Photos

If there is a downside to shooting digital, it has to be the need for a reliable backup system.

I use a 3 terabyte Western Digital MyBook external hard drive

Back up your photos on a regular basis—copy them to another location in case of a hard-drive failure. This has to do with your long-term happiness.

We hear a lot about storage in the “cloud” recently. Storing photos and other files on remote servers sounds great in theory. You don’t have to maintain any hardware; just upload your photos to online services and you’re done.

But are you? I say in “theory,” because one backup really isn’t enough. Multiple backups should be a priority for every photographer.

A hard-drive crash is all that’s needed to erase years of memories.

Nobody backs up diligently enough until they lose their first important file.

I learned the hard way, as so many have, and now preach the good news of regular backup.

It’s not a matter of IF your hard drive will fail; it’s a matter of WHEN.

As a general rule, you should make two copies of your backup.

In case of a disaster, such as a fire, flood, or tornado, it’s best to store you photos in two different locations.

At the end of the day, you need to create a strategy that works for you based on price, need, and ease-of-use.

Your back-up options include:

CDs or DVDs

Since it’s hard to predict the future of technology trends, it is possible that DVDs will become obsolete and your data may be safe but unreadable.

External hard drive

The simplest backup method is to use an external hard drive so all your images are in one location. Choose a hard drive that is big enough to keep all your current and future images, or be prepared to upgrade your drive in the future.

I use a 3 terabyte Western Digital MyBook external hard drive. For big-time storage Western Digital has 6TB of storage available (My Book StudioII) and comes with a hefty price tag.

Data Storage Centers

Carbonite is an excellent easy to use online backup service

Data Storage Centers are the kings of backup. They are typically built in buildings that are safe from fire, earthquake, hurricanes, and tornados. The key point here is that they are off-site backup solutions so that even if your system was destroyed or stolen, your data remains safe.

Once it is set up, backups are automatic. You don’t have to think about it. And you never run out of space. On-line backup services include:

Carbonite, 15-day free trial; $54.95/year unlimited backup

Mozy; $6.95/month unlimited backup

IDrive; 5 GB free; 150 GB of storage space $4.95/month or US$49.50/year

Worth Pondering…

Photography is the power of observation, not the application of technology.

—Ken Rockwell.

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Editing Photos

The tweaking you can do to a digital image is almost endless.

GIMP, a free photo editing program, that does the work of Adobe CS. (Source: monsoonhub.org)

You have many choices when it comes to photo editing software but finding the right one for you is not always easy.

Not every photo editing program is right for everybody. Editing images is a skill. It takes time to learn.

Some programs provide a lot of help. These are great for beginners. But they tend to be light on features and tools.

Using more full-featured programs is like diving into the deep end. These are meant for serious enthusiasts.

I also use Picasa to edit my photos. Try it before putting out money for more complicated photo editing software.

Other photo editing software programs to consider follow:

Paint.net is a FREE image and photo editing program for computers that run Windows. This software performs many basic image editing tasks, works quickly, and mimics the tools and functions that are found in other image editors.

Paint.NET is free image editing and photo manipulation software designed to be used on computers that run Windows. It supports layers, unlimited undo, special effects, and a wide variety of useful and powerful tools. (Source: avaxhome.ws)

It started development as an undergraduate college senior design project mentored by Microsoft, and is currently being maintained by some of the alumni that originally worked on it.

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a FREE editing program that is very complex and powerful; and is similar to the full version of Photoshop. But be forewarned—it’s not for beginners.

Photobie is a FREE program that has tools for nearly any editing function you can think of. Photobie is image editing software that combines features amateurs can use with advanced tools professionals will appreciate.

Photobie is free for personal use with no Pro upgrade to pay for—all features are free. You can work with layers for more precision. And it can handle tons of file formats. Also, it has many preset filters. You can tweak images with just a few clicks. And the results look really good.

Purchase your own software such as Adobe Photoshop Elements 10, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4, Adobe Photoshop CS6, or Apple Aperture.

Now, a comment on Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop is considered the gold standard in photo-editing software. It is so well known that Photoshop is often used as a verb.

Photoshop is high-end software aimed at professionals and other advanced photo enthusiasts.

You may be tempted to splurge on it. But, Photoshop is overkill for the average user. In fact, I would discourage most from buying the software.

The learning curve is steep. It is packed with all kinds of fancy features. You can use it to transform a photograph completely. Even some professionals struggle to master it.

That said, Photoshop may be the right program for you. It offers plenty of filters and correction tools. You can also work with layers. Layers let you stack different photos or multiple copies of the same photo. You can apply effects and settings on a layer-by-layer basis.

There are no other programs in the same class as Photoshop. However, GIMP comes close. And, GIMP is free!

The first thing to consider is ease of use.

The new Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 software will not work with Microsoft Windows XP or older 32-bit versions of the Apple OS X operating system. The new software requires a very modern operating system.

Before you pay money for a program, download a trial version. You’ll see exactly what you’re getting before you spend a dime. You can also test ease of use.

Try editing some of your photos. As with any program, there will be a learning curve.

If a program is difficult to use, the features don’t matter much. You’ll become frustrated with the program and won’t use it. Pass on any programs you find too difficult.

If a program seems easy to use, experiment with the features. Color balancing and light correction are essential. These will help you correct problems that are typical to digital photos.

Please Note: This is the thirty-fourth in a series of stories on Digital Photography and RVing

Worth Pondering…

Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.

—Imogen Cunningham

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Organizing Photos: Transfer Images to Computer

Are you in control of your metadata?

Do you know what you have, and can you find it?

Standardize your Workflow

No matter how you determine your file-naming convention (by date, by location, by subject, by keyword, etc.) the system must work for you. (Source: pcmag.com)

Have a plan for how images move from the camera to the computer. Establish an approach and then stick with it.

You can change it at a later date to upgrade to a better or more refined approach, but you’ve got to start somewhere and remain consistent for a while in order to develop a stable platform. It’s the foundation of your organizational system.

Download your photos from your digital camera memory card to your computer’s hard drive.

I connect my digital camera to my computer and hit the download button.

Some prefer to import using a high speed USB card reader. Be aware that all card readers are not the same.

After my images are transferred to my hard drive, I reformat the memory card.

When you open Picasa, you’ll notice that your photos are arranged by folder. You can drag and drop to rearrange your albums and create new albums.

There are as many filing systems as there are photographers. No matter how you determine your file-naming convention (by date, by location, by subject, by keyword, etc.) the system must work for you.

I create my folders by location. My procedure goes as follows:

  • Download my 4GB memory card to my computer using Picasa.
  • Select my folder and name for these images, e.g. BC, Okanagan Valley­_2012_08
  • After an initial run-through of my files, I delete the obvious throwaways and keep the rest.

Tag Photos

You can also tag your photos. Tagging is a concept found in photo management software where you attach descriptive text called tags (e.g. Birds, Hiking, Christmas, RV Parks,) to each photo in your collection.

Worth Pondering…

If I have any ‘message’ worth giving to a beginner it is that there are no short cuts in photography.

—Edward Weston

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Organizing Photos

The Digital Photography and RVing series will now focus on the second of the three steps of digital photography: Organizing and editing photos.

You’ve taken photos with your new digital camera. Now what?

Digital Workflow

Organizing photos using Picasa (Source: systeminsight.co.uk)

You can download your photos to a computer, organize them using a photo management program, and edit them using a photo-editing program.

Photographers refer to this process as digital workflow.

In simple terms “digital photography work-flow” is a systematic process of downloading, organizing, editing, backing-up, and sharing digital photos.

Walking along the path of a beginning digital photographer, I learned much the hard way.

Nikon Transfer is a basic program that allows you to import and manage files from the D90. (Source: steves-digicams.com)

I slowly came to realize that it was necessary to have a systematic work-flow for my digital photo processing.

Slowly, by numerous trials and errors, I’ve found a simplified way that works for me to develop, sort, organize, and archive my digital photo collection.

Select a Photo Management Program

If you shoot just 40 photos a week, you’ll end the year with more than a two thousand digital files—that’s a lot of photos to keep track of without some help!

For one thing, it’s going to be tough to find a specific photo. If you want to view the photo of a roseate spoonbill you took two years ago on South Padre Island in Texas, for example, you’ll have a difficult time finding it.

How can you put those photos into some semblance of order?

The first step in organizing your photos is to select a photo management program.

There are a number of excellent programs that organize, categorize, and keyword your photos so that you can store and locate all your digital files without losing track of them.

One of the most important factors in selecting a photo organization program is ease-of-use.

Which photo management system is right for you?

You have many choices. They include:


Picasa is free photo management software from Google that helps you find, organize, edit, and share your photos. Picasa is one of the better photo managers available. Its ever growing popularity can be attributed to its simplicity and ease of use. And did I mention that it’s FREE. Picasa is available as a download for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

You can find out more about Picasa by watching this You-tube video.

Digital photo workflow using Adobe Photoshop (Source: brothersoft.com)

When you install Picasa, it automatically scans your hard drive for images.

Picasa does not store the photos on your computer. When you open Picasa, it simply looks at the folders on your computer and displays the photos it finds. It displays the file types that you tell it to find, in the folders that you tell it to search.

Your original photos are always preserved. When using editing tools in Picasa, your original files are never touched. The photo edits you make are only viewable in Picasa until you decide to save your changes. Even then, Picasa creates a new version of the photo with your edits applied, leaving the original file totally preserved.

Picasa 3.9 is available for download.

Worth Pondering…

Every picture I take is like a diary entry.

—Gilles Peress

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Concluding Photo Tips/Suggestion

Specks of Dust

First of all, let’s clear up one point: Dust on your lens will rarely show up in the photo because you’ll always be focusing much farther than the front element of your lens—the location of the dust.

Ever take a picture and have it look like this? I hope not. This is an extreme case of sensor dust — probably as bad as you’ll ever see. (Source: bergencountycamera.com)

For dust on your lens to be visible as specks in your photo, you’d have to be focusing your lens to an extremely close distance—even closer than what most macro lenses can do. So, any specks of dust you see in your final image most likely were caused by dust on the camera sensor.

Use your camera’s sensor cleaning function. Most D-SLRs have a built-in function that uses ultrasonic vibrations to vibrate dust off the sensor. Sometimes this function is automatic when you turn your camera on and off, but check your camera’s manual to see if it has more options.

Change your lenses carefully. You just can’t escape dust: it’s everywhere outside and yet we still need to change lenses, so it’s important to be very careful and minimize the amount of time your camera is without a mounted lens.

My method for switching camera lenses:

  • Put your camera on a flat surface, so that the lens is pointing straight up
  • Unlock the lens on your camera body, and turn the lens just a little bit so you can let go of the lens and it remains unlocked but is still resting on the camera body
  • Remove the cap on the bottom of the new lens you want on your camera
  • Hold the new lens in your right hand, and twist off the lens on your camera with your left hand
  • Quickly mount the new lens with your right hand and lock it onto the camera
  • Put the cap on the bottom of the old lens

When possible, avoid switching lenses in windy or dusty areas and take advantage of protected areas when you can: Switch your lenses in your RV or toad/tow vehicle.

If you must switch your camera lenses while on the trail, try to do it inside your camera bag, or at least use part of your camera bag to shield your camera and lens from the wind. Also, if it’s especially windy out, then try moving to a less windy spot to switch your lenses.

The basic strategy is to avoid changing your lens in windy conditions, where the most dust is flying around.

How do you switch your lenses?

Have you found another way to switch your lenses that minimizes exposure to dust?

Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB)

Automatic Exposure bracketing is the process of automatically bracketing the exposure values by using a setting on the camera and taking several bracketed shots (in contrast to the photographer altering the settings by hand between each shot). (Source: enchantingkerala.org)

Bracketing is the intentional over or under exposure of your image.

When in doubt about the correct exposure, take several “bracketed” shots.

When you select AEB the camera takes one regular shot, then a second shot under exposed/slightly darker (-1 stop) and a third shot over exposed/slightly lighter (+1 stop).

You end up with the three images in a series with exactly the same composition but at different exposures for you to select the most pleasing one after you download them to your computer.

If you have the camera in burst mode (continuous shooting) the three shots will be taken if you hold down the shutter for a burst of three shots.

Check out your manual to see how AEB works on your digital camera. Most will allow you to change the variation between shots by different stops.

Always Have Your Camera Ready

And let’s not forget the most basic rule for shooting great photos: Take your camera with you everywhere you go…and take lots of photos.

You can’t “capture the moment” if you don’t have your camera.

Oh, and Don’t Forget to Take Lots of Photos

Take your camera everywhere you go. (Source: Allen Murabayashi/photoshelter.com)

Once you’ve purchased your camera, digital photography is free. You can shoot as many photos as you want, and you’ll never pay a nickel for film or developing.

Never put off taking a photo because you think you’ll have better light another time. There may not be another time.

Get out there, get moving, and get busy!

The more you shoot, the more you will learn. Try out new ideas and challenge your old ones. Nobody has to see the photos that do not turn out so great. In their book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell theorize that the only real difference between being great at something and being only average at it is practice. Talent often is nothing more than practice and tenacity.

If you ask any professional the secret to great photographic results, one of the first things you’ll hear is, “Shoot a lot.”

The renowned photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, said, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”

Yes, it’s true—you’ll wind up deleting most of them. But shooting a lot increases the odds that, somewhere in that massive pile of photos, there are some true gems.

Above all, shoot, shoot, shoot—lots and lots of photos!

You never know when you’ll catch that once in a lifetime shot!

There’s another life lesson that we’ve heard many times: Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

Please Note: This is the thirty-first in a series of stories on Digital Photography and RVing

Worth Pondering…

Taking pictures is like panning for gold. You do it again and again, and sometimes you find a nugget.

—Raghubir Singh

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More Photo Tips/Suggestion: Memory Cards & Histograms

In today’s post I discuss the use of memory cards and histograms.

Memory Cards

32GB CompactFlash Memory Card from Lexar Media, a leading global provider of memory products for digital media. (Source: dpreview.com)

Ensure that you always have sufficient memory capacity for your digital camera.

But how do you know how much is enough?

As a quick rule of thumb JPEG files are generally half the size of the sensor capacity. With my 18-MP Canon EOS Rebel T3i camera each JPEG will be about 9 MB. This means a 1GB card will hold about 113 photos.

Since memory cards are now relatively inexpensive, buy more memory capacity than you anticipate needing and ALWAYS carry a spare.

Just like any kind of technology, memory cards can fail. If you just use one giant card, and that card fails, you just lost all your photos! I use a 4MB card and ALWAYS carry a 4MB spare.

Tips for avoiding memory card problems:

  • Format a new memory card as soon as you get it. Even if your memory card came “preformatted,” it’s still a good idea to format the card again with your own camera.
  • Use multiple small cards, instead of one big one. With the huge memory cards available today, it’s tempting to buy one with a large capacity. But, what if your 128GB card fails? Then you just lost thousands of photos!
  • Format your memory card after each download. Formatting your memory cards is sort of like resetting them, and making them fresh again. It will help correct any disk errors that may have occurred during your last shoot.
  • Store your cards in a safe place. It’s important to protect the contacts on your memory cards, because the smallest piece of dust can cause reading/writing problems and ultimately loss of photos. Always store them in their plastic case.

Histogram Display

A Hist-o-what?

A histogram is a graphical representation of the light values of the image. Yeah, I know, that really helps. A histogram display is actually one of the most useful features you can have on a digital camera.

The histogram is a tool that provides instant feedback about an image. Having your camera set to show histograms during the view process will tell you how your image is exposed. The histogram shows, in graph form, the distribution of the tones in an image. You can see at a glance whether portions are blown out or underexposed.

Represented as a graph, a histogram looks like a mountain range. The left side depicts the darkest parts of the photo and the right side depicts the lightest. Anything beyond the left edge is pure black and anything beyond the right edge is pure white—both are outside the range of the image sensor.

Every histogram will be different and there is no right or wrong shape.

Depending on which is more prevalent in your photograph—shadows or highlights—the histogram visually may favor one side or the other. By checking the histogram, I’m able to analyze the amount of dark tones (on the left), bright tones (on the right), and all the mid-tones in between. I like my histograms to stretch 80% to 90% of the way to the right end, but not all the way, to avoid blown-out highlights.

(Source: 500th.net)

The above illustration and following explanation is courtesy 500th.net, website of photographer Martin Joergensen.

Each histogram has been overlaid with a line that indicate its general shape. The middle one shown is a so-called perfect histogram. All tones fall within the edges and we have a fairly even distribution of tones.

Above that is a contrasty image. This has a saddle-shaped curve, and the danger here lies in loss of both dark details and highlights.

Below you will find a dull image with little contrast. That has a narrow curve with few tones.

Histograms shifted too much to the left means dark images and danger of underexposure and loss of dark detail and curves shifted too much to the right is a warning of a light picture with possibly burnt-out highlights.

You have a tool that helps you nail those exposures—use it!

Please Note: This is the thirtieth in a series of stories on Digital Photography and RVing

Worth Pondering…

Photography is like making cheese. It takes a hell of a lot of milk to make a small amount of cheese just like it takes a hell of a lot of photos to get a good one.

—Robert Gillis

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More Photo Tips/Suggestion: Filters

A filter is a seemingly simple piece of glass that screws onto your lens in a rotating mount, and has an effect on your image. Filters come in various sizes according to the needs of your specific lens.

Polarizing Filter

Note how the above polarizing filter enhances the color of the sky in contrast with white clouds. (Source: richkoppphotography.com)

There are few more important things a nature photographer can do to improve his or her photography than using a circular polarizing filter.

This is one filter you must have for your landscape photos especially in Red Rock Country. The polarizer is the only filter that I use.

To understand how it works would require a seminar in the physics of light. But using a polarizer is easy; simply screw it on the front of your lens, look through your viewfinder, and rotate it until you see the effect you want, and then shoot.

The way a polarizer works is simple but the results produced can be extraordinary. A polarizing filter removes glare—the distracting light waves that radiate from smooth surfaces like shiny leaves or reflections on water. With the glare eliminated, you capture the true color and texture of the subject.

Polarizing filters also deepen blue skies without altering the color of the clouds. Color saturation is also significantly enhanced. Brilliant red and orange foliage really pops when framed against a deep blue sky.

With the help of a polarizing filter, pale blue skies can become saturated almost to an inky black. (Source: dslrlensauctions.com)

A polarizer doesn’t give the same effect everywhere in the sky. Optimum polarization is when the light source is 90 degrees from the direction you are pointing your camera, i.e. side lit. But when the sun is directly in front or in back of the direction your camera is pointed, it renders virtually no effect at all.

There are two types of polarizing filters—linear and circular.

If you’re shooting with autofocus lenses, you need a circular polarizing filter. Linear polarizers are designed for manual focus lenses only.

In summary, polarizing filters:

  • Darkens a blue sky and brightens white clouds
  • Reduces haze and glare in the atmosphere
  • Reduces reflections from glass, water, rocks, and metal
  • Enhances color saturation
  • Eliminates stray light and glare from reflective surfaces
  • Increases contrast
  • Helps reduce incoming light, when you need longer shutter speeds

Take care to use sky-darkening in moderation; too much saturation can actually make skies look almost black.

However, there is one downside to polarizing filters: you lose approximately two stops of light.

Beware when shooting with a wide-angle lens. Because of the 90-degree rule, a wide angle lens often will show wide variations in the sky.

Since polarizing filters are frequently quite thick, beware of vignetting, the darkening of the corners relative to the centre of the image. Choosing a thin polarizer helps, but the thinner models tend to cost more. The degree of vignetting varies from camera to camera and lens to lens.

I never leave home without my polarizer; actually I leave it on my camera all the time. By never removing the polarizing filter from the lens, I’m always prepared when that great photo opportunity arises. And since I use my standard lens almost exclusively for landscape shots I really don’t have a good reason to remove it.

Filter Manufacturers

When purchasing a polarizing filter you have the choice of a number of quality manufacturers.

The Cokin Creative Filter System has been around for 30 years. Filters fit in a special holder that attaches to the lens via an interchangeable metal ring.

B+W filters are widely recognized for outstanding quality as well as technological innovation.

Tiffen produces professional-quality filters. It takes a lot of know-how to win two Technical Achievement Awards and a Scientific and Engineering Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as well as an Emmy Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. That proficiency is apparent in every Tiffen product.

Polarizing filters are the single most important piece of equipment a photographer needs in his arsenal. This is one filter whose effects cannot be duplicated in any stage or level of post processing. (Source: enchantingkerala.org)

Hoya is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of optical glass, including glass used for camera lenses, eyeglasses, and photographic filters. Their production process involves the introduction of raw elements and chemicals to molten optical glass to produce a filter of uniform coloration.

Singh-Ray calls its polarizers “lighter, brighter,” meaning that they transmit more light than average.

Heliopan filters are made from glass supplied by Schott (wholly owned by Carl Zeiss) and set in black anodized brass rings that screw in with precision. They’re available in every conceivable size and configuration, including 13 different types of polarizers and special-effects filters.

Please Note: This is the twenty-ninth in a series of stories on Digital Photography and RVing

Worth Pondering…

A polarizing filter is the most productive accessory that a photographer can have in his kit, second only to a decent tripod and head. Don’t leave home without one.

—Michael Reichmann

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