Travel photography is a popular reason for people to buy a camera, and to actually use it. Before you go, buy my book on travel photography and have me put on my Impactful Travel Photography seminar for you and a few friends (see http://learning.photography).  And let me give you just a couple of starting notes in this post.

Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

First: research where exactly you are going to go. I use Flickr and to a lesser extent Google image search to look for great images in the location I am going to. Then I look up where exactly they were taken, and at what time of day (Flickr usually retains the EXIF data). I look for best viewpoints and then research where they are: “where was that great photo taken from, and at what time”. I even look at what lenses were used. Not that you should copy, but you can draw conclusions from that kind of data.

View from the Hotel Chelsea, NY, NY

I also look up attractions’ GPS coordinates, since attractions do not always have a street address. You can google that: Searching for “latitude and longitude of Zabriskie Point” gives you “36.4200° N, 116.8111° W”.

I also look for shooting locations of Hollywood movies: why not let Hollywood do the heavy lifting of finding great locations?

On location, I always ask the hotel reception, the concierge; I buy postcards of locations, and I look for events, since people often do not mind being photographed at them; they expect, rather than resist, cameras.

Bring an app like Daylight to check exact sunrise and sunset times; an hour each way around sunrise and sunset , you get wonderful light.

Then check you have what you need. Camera(s); batteries; chargers; memory cards; lenses; flash(es); perhaps an ND and Polarizing filter or two; some cloths for cleaning (anything that is small, light and cheap is good!); whatever you need, think about it now, not just before traveling.

In other words: preparation does wonders when traveling.

Make it better.

Here’s a typical outside flash shot. (Taken by the über-talented photographer Lisa Mininni while I was teaching her flash tricks yesterday):

What did we do to make this?

[A] Take the shot:

This was a flash shot, of course. So outside in bright sunlight the settings are very, very simple.

  1. Pocketwizard on camera.
  2. Second Pocketwizard connected to the flash by means of a “Pocketwizard to hotshoe”–cable from www.flashzebra.com. Modify with a softbox or umbrella (the latter is smaller but will blow over more easily in the slightest breeze).
  3. Flash set to manual, half power. (Be ready to increase to full if you need to—but the flash may overheat, and recharge time between shots will be long).
  4. White balance to “Flash”.
  5. Camera manual, 100 ISO, 1/250 sec.
  6. Then, determine the aperture you need for a good background. Start at f/8—and then vary from there. On a day like yesterday, I needed f/11 to f/16.
  7. Once your background is right, look at the flash part. If the flash is too bright, reduce its power level or move it farther away from what it is lighting. If the flash is too dark, increase its power level or move it closer to what it is lighting. Or add a second flash, Worst case, use direct, unmodified flash.

[B] Finish the shot:

That finishing (not “editing”!) is just as important as taking the photo, and it consists of:

  1. Verify exposure and tweak if necessary. (If you have taken the shot properly, this should not be needed.) Pay attention also to “highlights” and “blacks”.
  2. Set white balance to “Flash”, if it wasn’t already. (Ditto).
  3. Correct lens and “architecture”–distortion.
  4. Crop and rotate if/as needed.
  5. Sharpen if/as needed.
  6. Perhaps add a very slight post-crop vignette.

Those steps are pretty much standard, and a typical picture takes me less than 30 seconds to finish.

[C] Options

I could of course add another flash, for the background. Set that to quarter power.

OK. How was this shot lit, then? Here’s how:

That’s right—always make a pullback shot, where you can see the lighting setup. You’ll forget. I used a third pocketwizard connected to the second flash via a second hotshoe cable.

Is this rocket science? No. But it is fun and it does open up untold creative possibilities.


Come to me for a private lesson and I will teach you how to do this, how to use modifiers, how to balance light sources, how to use gels, and much, much more,. You don’t need much, other than an SLR, a flash, and knowledge of the basics (“what is aperture and shutter speed and how do they work”)—but I can even teach you those if you like. See http://learning.photography or give me a call on +1 416-875-8770 and never look back. I can teach you remotely, too, using Google hangouts, too, even if you are in, say, Australia.

Improvise? Yes, improvise.

You can improvise in so many ways.

Take this image:

Just now. It’s 30C (86F). And sunny. So I need a flash, otherwise that sky would not look blue; it would look white instead. because exposing highly enough to see the inside of the car would make the sky way too bright.

Instead, I expose for the sky (the usual outdoors flash recipe: 1/200s, 100 ISO, then f/4–f/22, start at f/8). Then I add flash. Three flashes in one umbrella, fired by one Pocketwizard:

Without flash, that would look like this:

A portrait would be nice, with this light. 100 ISO, 1/200 sec, f/16.

Anyway, I said “improvise”. How so?

The sandbag, that’s how so. That umbrella would be all over the place, breaking my equipment on its way down. You need a sandbag to stabilize it and to hold it down.

And what I often use, when I don’t happen to have a sandbag available, is a 15kg bag of kitty litter. Which is what I am using here, if you look carefully. That light stand isn’t going anywhere!


Come meet me tomorrow at CJ’s Café in Bronte, Oakville, for the official opening of my month long exhibit of wall art. And perhaps buy a piece: tomorrow only, I have lots of extra works (over 150), at once-only prices.

Tell me you are coming: https://www.facebook.com/events/1449929615312360/

Near (East End) Toronto? Then read this!

If you are in Toronto’s East End, come to this course:

Mastering Flash All Day Special, 27 July

This will be held in Whitby and I’ll teach you everything about flash: on-camera, camera, balancing flash and ambient, modifiers, radio triggers: everything you need to know to do great flash work. You need no prior flash knowledge: all you need is a DSLR and a flash, and knowledge of the basics (aperture, shutter, ISO)—and even those will be reviewed just in case!

I am driving in from Oakville to teach it, so it’s worth you driving in from all over the province to come learn. I promise: all my courses come with a fully happy policy.

A typical flash shot, with off camera flash at 100 ISO, 1/250 sec, f/8.

You will learn recipes for studio flash, for outdoor flash, for party flash.You will learn the errors to avoid., You will learn to operate your flash. You will learn how not to carry to much. At the end of this day, you will be a flash pro!


Respect the click

I am old enough to remember the film days. And while the digital era is better in almost every way, there were a few things that did work better in the film era. And those things were to do with what I would call “respect for the click”.

My film camera—a Nikon FE

Today, it is no longer necessary to respect the click. So instead of making a portrait, for instance, we take 100 photos and scan through them hoping to find a good one. And instead of setting white balance, we just leave it on “whatever” and sort it out later, on the computer. Instead of getting exposure right, we shoot, adjust after looking at the screen, then shoot again, and repeat until exposure is OK. In the film days, we could not do these things: each click cost a dollar, and after each click we had to wait several days to see the results.

In the broadest sense, this means that today we do not think about the photo. And that is a shame. This prevents us from becoming a better photographer, and it gives us more work to do at the other end, after shooting. It also devalues the photo.

Fortunately, there are several ways to get the old discipline back.

One way is to turn off the automatic display at the back. That way you have to click on playback specifically to see an image. If you do not, you do not see a preview. And try not to look after every photo. Finally, try to have the self-discipline to not “just” try things. By all means correct if you have to, but give it a couple of seconds of thought to get as close as you can, before you actually shoot.

Cookies – 16mm, full frame

One great way to do that: shoot the odd roll of film. If you want to be a really good photographer, you should buy an old film camera—a good one like the one above should cost you between $100—$150. And then shoot a roll of film every month. You will be surprised how much more respect you will have for every photo.

And that is a good thing, because lack of respect for the click results in snapshots.