Vital skills – with any gear
Having loads of expensive equipment doesn’t necessarily make you a good photographer; in fact a lot of people find that too much gear gets in the way of being creative, and that they often take better pictures on their smartphone. Try to look at your holiday photography as an opportunity to simplify the way you shoot, and to concentrate on the basics of composition, colour and so on.
For a more engaging shot, move in close and fill the frame. The biggest failing with many images is that they are photographed from the wrong place and with the wrong lens; an interesting subject barely takes up half the frame, with a dull and featureless sky filling up the other half. Zoom into the subject, or simply walk closer, and you can fill the frame with interest, creating a more engaging shot.
One of the most creative things that you can do in photography is to think about how the things that you are photographing combine in the frame. Move around the subject and you can put different objects together, creating a link between them. Consider setting up a shot and then wait for someone to walk into the picture as well.
At its simplest level, this can involve controlling the background of your photograph. Whether you are shooting a portrait of a fisherman on a beach, or taking a picture of a local autorickshaw, think about how changing your position will affect the background of the picture. A significant background can say a lot about the subject; providing a contrast, giving a context or explanation or even cutting out clutter to avoid distractions. Combine controlling the background with moving your subject from the centre of the frame to improve the composition, and you will be able to create meaningful pictures that look more visually balanced.
Photographers need to work with the light. Look for interesting light effects and how the light and shadow interplay. This is best done at the beginning and end of the day, when the light is more directional and the shadows are less deep and pronounced.
Don’t always shoot with the sun behind you. Shooting into the light can result in more graphic and dynamic shots, especially if the weather conditions are hazy or overcast. If you shoot haze with the sun behind you, your pictures can look dull and gloomy; shoot into the sun and your shots will look misty and atmospheric. If you are shooting into the light, using the lens hood that came with your camera will increase contrast and help to avoid lens flare.
Another thing that can increase contrast and saturation is the humble polarizing filter. Many photographers carry one of these, but aren’t too sure when and where to use it. Polarizing filters reduce reflections, and as they tend to have a more pronounced effect when the sun is higher in the sky they are perfect for the holiday photographer – helping to moderate less-than-ideal light towards the middle of the day. By reducing reflections on tiny water droplets in the atmosphere, a polarizing filter can make blue skies more saturated; but they also reduce reflections on foliage, saturating the colour of, say, tea plantations and paddy fields. Polarizers also making rivers, lakes and seas look more punchy vibrant.
To see if the polarizing filter will have an effect, hold it up to your eye and rotate. If you see a significant effect, then screw it onto the front of your camera and turn it until you see the same effect.
Finally, if you want to reproduce that glorious turquoise tropical water, photograph towards the middle of the day from a higher viewpoint, use a polarizing filter to reduce reflections, and then warm up the picture using the Cloudy or Shade white balance setting. Like all great travel photography, the result can be a real ‘wish-I-was-there’ shot!
ABOVE Move in close to your subject to fill the frame with interest and come away with a better-composed shot
RIGHT A polarizing filter removes reflections, saturating colour on things like paddy fields and tea plantations
ABOVE LEFT Shooting contre-jour (against the light) can lead to more dynamic shots, with pronounced shadows
ABOVE RIGHT Shooting against the light with a hazy, overcast sky leads to better pictures than with the sun behind you