Does every photo need to be perfect?
Let’s start off by getting a couple of things clear. The Up Sticks N Go crew have no special photographic skills and we don’t use equipment that costs an arm and a leg. We do carry an SLR camera but it seldom leaves its carry bag. It’s heavy, bulky, conspicuous and we really don’t know how to use it properly. We did consider sending it back to Australia but the telephoto lens is useful and it’s a great camera to use on a tripod for long exposure shots. But the best camera for travel is the one you have with you. I know you have heard that before, but it’s true.
We find the iPhone is an exceptionally good camera for travelling. It’s light, quick on the draw and most importantly close by when you need it. Does the iPhone give you the best quality, highest resolution image every time? Is the exposure always correct and focus crisp? Of course not, but the iPhone is a point-and-shoot camera with an amazingly small lens.
It can’t possibly compete against the expensive, large aperture cameras on a technical or image quality level. But it’s there when you need it. You don’t have to haul it out, remove lens caps, adjust focus, check setting and then finally frame the image. You just select camera mode, aim, frame and shoot.
So does every photo have to be perfect? For us the answer is NO, our travel photography does not have to be perfect. We are journaling our adventure so the stories are more important than the quality of photos. Our viewing audience want to know how we are going, what we are doing, the issues we face and the places we’ve visited. The images are a vehicle to convey that information quickly with only a few words.
But that’s not the whole story.
We also want more people to follow the Up Sticks N Go adventure and photographs are one of the ways we attract followers. We find better quality images do attract more people and receive better engagement. As a result we have concentrated our efforts to improve the quality of photographs we publish, by reading more on the subject and through a lot of trial and error.
I’ve compiled a series of posts detailing photographic techniques we are using to get the best out of our iPhone cameras. Michelle and I use iPhone 5s cameras and have both developed methods and techniques to achieve those special images. We want to share what we have learnt so others can capture their travel moments and proudly share them with friends and family.
We are Apple iPhone fans, no surprise there; we love the consistent quality of the iPhone 5s camera. We also love the amazing photo applications available to shoot, edit and publish our photos on the move. These will be iPhone specific tutorials, but most techniques will be transferable to all point-and-shoot cameras.
TUTORIAL ONE: The best camera for travelling is the iPhone in your pocket
The Up Sticks N Go crew are very Apple centric. We love our iPhones, iPads, MacBook Pros etc. and have carried a selection of Apples devices around the world. They work every time we turn them on and last a lot longer than similar competitor models.
The iPhone is the device we use most, but we seldom make a call. The iPhone is our travel camera and video recorder. We’ve taken thousands of photos and published a fair percentage of those shots on Instagram, Facebook, Flickr and Pinterest. We attempt to create at least two videos a week, which we publish on YouTube. I had ambitions of publishing one a day but the lack of high speed internet in many places visited made a video a day rather ambitious.
So why is an iPhone the best camera for travelling?
I’d love to say it’s because of super high quality images and how easy it operates, which are all great reasons. But it’s the fact it’s close by and easy to access that truly makes it the best camera.
It’s smaller than an SLR by a mile, with a 35 mm lens and only a fraction of the weight. In fact an iPhone is smaller and lighter than most compact cameras and I’d say many of the smartphones we see fellow travellers carrying. Its weight and size mean it fits in your pocket or nestles comfortably in your hand. So when that photo opportunity presents itself, it is right there with you.
As travellers we are aware we’ll be taking photos regularly, but we are not on a photo shoot. We don’t carry around the paraphernalia of a professional photographer and we don’t necessarily have the time to pose photos or arrange props or achieve the perfect position. We walk and sometimes run into a location, assess the photo opportunities at the time, snap what we can and then move on.
To get the best shot in these situations, we often take many images or use the iPhone’s burst mode to capture that special moment. The iPhone has an amazing amount of memory. We can capture thousands of eight megapixel images and hours of video before needing to download or back up the images. As a result we go for days travelling and recording our adventure before we need to think about memory space.
Just knowing we have a camera with us means we take pictures. If we had to get a camera from the car or out of a bag and then lug it around we probably wouldn’t bother. We know this because we have an SLR in our kit and given the choice between lugging it around on a day excursion or just pocketing an iPhone, it’s very simple. We leave the SLR at home as it’s unlikely we’ll pull it out of the case in time to make the shot.
With so much going on around us, the speed that we can get a camera out and capture a shot is important. The operation speed of the iPhone camera really helps. The slide to reveal camera function and its default photo setting means we can draw, activate and shoot in under a second. We don’t always capture every spontaneous shot as finger fumbles are common, but we’ve captured some amazing spur-of-the-moment images.
Adding up physical size, memory size and speed of operation means an iPhone is a great travel camera, but it’s the close proximity of our iPhone that make it the best camera for travel.
TUTORIAL TWO: How to take a better iPhone travel photo
Carry your iPhone/camera on you at all times. You can’t take a great shot if the camera is in the car, on the bus or worse, in the hotel room.
Practice make perfect. If you have a camera with you, use it. Shoot every chance you get. Just by sheer volume alone you will get one or two great photos. But if you learn by doing, you’ll eventually find more than just the odd few shots are great. Practice certainly does improve your photographic skill. We are living examples. We couldn’t take a good shot to save ourselves when we first started, some may say we still have a long way to go, but our photos are getting better and more and more people are commenting on the quality, not just the content.
Try not to develop bad habits. Stop reviewing every shot just after you take it. You’ll have plenty of time to mull over shots once back to your accommodation or once finished your holiday. Shoot the action around you; trust the camera to do its stuff. Move to capture the scene; think about light and shadow, slow down to ensure the perspective and subject matter capture the essence of the scene.
Without my reading glasses I can’t clearly see the camera’s digital screen, so quality of the last shot is undefined even if I do review the photo. So I tend to pull the camera out, get into position, frame, focus then shoot three or four photos from slightly different angles before putting the camera down; all without looking at those photos. Later in a coffee shop I can put my reading glasses on and really study the photos. As a result, if something amazing happens around me I’m not focused on the digital screen and can snap that next shot without delay.
Use the light around you. Don’t shoot with the sun directly behind you. Sun behind you causes the image to look flat and, of course, your shadow gets in the way. Shoot from either side (about 5 – 45 degrees) so the sun is over your left or right shoulder. See the light around you and use it to your advantage. Is the light interacting with the scene highlighting an area or casting interesting shadows? If so, use this to create an extraordinary photo.
Use shade during the day. Sunlight between 10 am to 3 pm can be harsh and creates deep shadows, especially on faces. During the day you’ll often find enough light in the shade to take a great photo, without harsh shadows and overexposed areas caused by midday sun. Walk in the shade as you travel, it’s better for your skin and take photos of subjects that are shaded but not in front of large expanses of sundrenched backgrounds. If you are competing with a well-lit background, get in closer and use the camera’s flash to lighten the foreground subject.
Take photos at either end of the day. Early morning or late afternoon, when the sun is low in the sky, is the best time to snap full sun photos. The shadows are longer but less visible to a camera held one to two meters from the ground. The light is softer, yellower and lights up a subject more evenly. However it’s not the perfect time of day for travellers whose focus is not purely about photography. But if you want a great shot, get out of bed early and visit those special places when the sun is low in the sky and most other visitors are still in bed or eating.
Check what’s in the background. Too often we see images of people with a tree sticking out of their head, garbage bin prominent in the background or some annoying tourist messing up a photo. When you visit tourist locations you will have other people milling around in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Try getting in close and obscuring any foreign object you don’t want in the frame. Move left or right to place a wall, pole or tree so it obscures unwanted or unsightly objects in the frame.
Here we used daughter Tash to obscure a group of tourists lined up at the castle’s front door.
Perspective. An image is more engaging when you shoot it from a different vantage point to the normal observer. Crouch down, lie down or, if you’re tall like me, stand on your tippy toes and hold the camera up high. The change in perspective will make the image different and often more pleasing. Changing your observation point in this way also enables you to remove those unwanted background elements. Get down so a foreground object fills the gap between you and the background you’re trying to capture. The object will obscure the unwanted cars, people and garbage you don’t want in the photo.
Focus on the Subject. The subject of your photo should be in the right spot to achieve an extraordinary image. So slow down and think about its placement in the field of view.
Move a few steps closer. Fill your photo with the subject you wish to capture. Move closer to the foreground subject and position it at one or two sweet spots within the photo. The “Rule of Thirds” always applies, but getting up close and personal with the subject and filling the frame will make the photo “POP”. See how much better your photo looks without the wasted nondescript foreground and background space?
Rule of Thirds. If you are uncertain about the “Rule of Thirds” in photography, I suggest reading Darren Rowse’s blog post; one of thousands of photography posts on the web explaining this rule. In essence, if you divide the photo into thirds both horizontally and vertically the four intersection points form “sweet spots” of the photo where focal points of the subject matter should be aligned.
If it’s the portrait of a person, their eyes should align to the top two intersections or at least sit on the horizontal line marking the top third of the image. If it’s a subject or scene, then the subject should fill two thirds of the background with its focal point falling along either the right or left vertical line.
Framing. To further draw a viewer’s focus towards the subject, the subject can be framed by a foreground or background feature like a window, street line, door or even a shadow.
Look out for Simon’s next post in the series “iPhone apps for travelling Photographers”.
ABOUT: The family behind Up Sticks N Go are official Outbound Ambassadors. Michelle Frost and husband Simon are travelling the world with their three kids for 18 months while working online – how cool is that? They’d love to catch up with readers somewhere in the world. If you’d like to see more you can follow their adventure via their website: www.upsticksandgo.com or on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest or Twitter.