Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Travel Trade-offs

Deciding what camera gear to take traveling is always a trade-off.

I've flown thousands of miles on some trips with a 4x5" view camera, tripod and pounds of other equipment, on other trips with a point-and-shoot that fits in an Altoids tin, and with just about everything in between.

At one time my luggage exceeded 50 pounds, at another it was barely over 20. Traveling with the lighter load was definitely more enjoyable.

Even if you have a lot of camera equipment. it is not always best to take all of it on every trip. You have to balance the goal of the photography you are doing on each trip against the other things you will be doing while you travel.

Flying to Cape Cod for a family holiday or Hawaii for your honeymoon, you may want to take less equipment and spend more time with your kids or spouse.

Driving to Yosemite for a photography workshop you might not mind lugging and keeping track of a bit more gear. But even so, you still may want to limit the amount of equipment you take. At some point having more gear with you can actually get in the way of your photography.

So where should you start in deciding what to take? Why at the end of the process of course.

What is end result that you hope to get out of the photography you will be doing on that particular trip?

Who will you be sharing the images with?

Will you only be showing them to friends and relatives or viewing them yourself to remember the great time you had?

Will you be sharing them with a wider online community, entering them in competitions or selling them?

Will you be printing them or only displaying them online? How big are the largest prints you will be making of them?

How technically perfect do you need/want them to be?

All of these questions will determine what level of quality you will strive for which will be one of the factors influencing what gear you will need to take. If you will only be sharing a few of them with your family on a computer screen or in 4" x 6" prints, you may be able to get away with taking a small camera and nothing else.

Another factor influencing your choice of gear to take is what you enjoy taking photographs of. If what you love most of all is photographing birds in wild settings and that is one of the goals of this particular trip, be prepared to take a large camera, large lens and tripod. If you will be mostly making scenic photos of travel destinations, a wide variety of camera can be suitable for that. If candid photos of people in dimly lit nightclubs or pictures of relatives in their homes (which are also often very dimly lit for photography) is what you most enjoy, taking a camera with a faster lens may be more important.

How far will you be traveling and how will you be going? If you are driving, there is really no limit to the weight of equipment you can take. If you are flying, biking or hiking, you should really work to make sure you are taking the minimum amount of gear needed to get the photographs you want.

But even if you are driving, you may still want to limit it. As well as carrying the weight, there is also the burden of keeping track of expensive equipment, worrying whether it will be stolen and making sure you don't leave any of it behind in your hotel room.

Plan your equipment based on the majority of photos you want to make. If you are primarily making pictures of people and landscapes, do you really need to take your extra-long lens just in case you find an interesting colony of birds up in a tree. If you do end up missing one or two shots is it really that terrible? If you are a professional photographer and your job requires you to get those photos that is one thing, but if you are making photos for the fun of it, will it really be more fun for you getting that one bird shot or traveling lighter for the rest of your trip?

Even if you own a DSLR and a bunch of lenses, consider leaving them at home on long trips and taking a point-and-shoot camera.

A few years ago I was contemplating taking my DSLR with me on my honeymoon to Hawaii. I knew that if I did, I would want to buy a longer lens to photograph some of the birds and wildlife I would see there. But none of the longer lenses that I was looking at seemed to be available for under $600 and they would also have added quite a bit to the weight of an already heavy camera pack.

Since we would be doing a lot of walking traveling around Kuiai and Maui for 3 and a half weeks I decided instead to leave my DSLR at home, buy a larger point-and-shoot for $3-400 with a very long zoom lens and just take that. I was very glad that I made that choice. As well as being cheaper, that camera drastically reduced the weight of my luggage and I really didn't miss the bigger camera.

Although I ended up making many really beautiful photographs and having a lot of fun doing it, I knew that I was not going there with the goal of creating the world's most stunning images of the islands. I knew that many professional photographers had already spent much more time and effort creating great images there and what I really wanted was simply fun images that I could look at to remember our wonderful time there and perhaps share with some friends.

However, if I had it all to do over again, I really don't think that I needed the extra-long lens on that camera (a Canon Powershot SX20IS) and really wish that I had spent the money on a Canon G11 instead, a camera with a shorter lens but with many more useful features for general photography. Yes, I would have missed a few images that could only be made with that longer lens but I really don't think I would have missed them that much.

I also realized while making those bird and wildlife images that at this time in my life I really don't have the patience to be a great bird photographer. To get really good bird images, not only do you have to carry a fair amount of equipment, you have to be willing to sometimes stay still in one spot for ages, watching the birds and waiting for just that right moment.

The one piece of equipment other than that travel camera that I still go back and forth on is a tripod. I have taken one on many more trips than I have actually used it on. I find that on family vacations I am moving so quickly that I rarely stop long enough to set it up and it does add quite a bit of weight and hassle to my luggage. But I still take it with me more often than not, thinking that eventually I will get myself in the habit of using it at least for some shots.

I do use it on driving or hiking trips closer to home when I don't have anyone else waiting around for me to set it up and take it down. But not so much on longer trips.

I do often use a small portable tripod though on either of my point and shoot cameras, either the Ultrapod for my pocket camera or the Ultrapod II for the larger P&S. The smaller one especially fits easily in my pocket, sets up in seconds on any nearby surface or straps to a pole or tree for instant stability.

Even if you can't stand to go on vacation without your SLR, give a thought to only taking a small kit lens and a fast prime lens (a 50mm 1.8 for example). See if your neck doesn't feel better after a day of only carrying that around and you don't feel freer not having to worry about where you camera bag is every minute.

Photobook Publishing Sites Part Two

A while back I started researching Photobook publishers to see which was the best one out there. As I was doing that research I found many useful reviews online.

I think the best of those is this one: http://www.digitalhomethoughts.com/news/show/97676/the-great-photo-book-round-up-review-who-makes-the-best-photo-books.html .

Although that author concluded that Inkubook was the very best quality publisher, I came to the conclusion that for my needs, the one publisher I have tried before, Blurb, is the best for me.

I agree with him that Inkubook has some of the ultimate best quality but I think that Blurb is more affordable, has quality that is good enough for me, and has a great deal of flexibility in how you can create and share your books which is important to me.

The only other publisher I I am tempted by on his list is Adoramapix because they have a "lay flat" binding option which allows the book to open completely so the pages lay completely flat on the table and none of the page area is obscured by the curve of the binding.

This was especially a problem with the paperback copy of the book I created. One of the photos I included in it was half obscured by the binding. Next time I create a book I will have to give more room at the center of the pages to prevent this.

For all of the books that I will be publishing simply to share with friends and relatives, I plan on going with Blurb.

If I decide to offer any of my books for sale, I think I will start with lulu.com for photobooks and Amazon.com for books that are primarily text.

Lulu.com seems to have the most comprehensive site for people who want to share and sell their photobooks.

For books that are primarily text, Amazon.com's Kindle and paper based book publishing seems like it would get to the largest audience the fastest and with the least trouble.

If I decide to do more than dabble in this area I will probably try out lightningsource.com for print books as well since they seem to be a very easy way to get self-published books into brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Splitting the Blog into several sites

I've been waiting to announce this blog to my friends and acquaintances until I worked out a few technical details and until I was really sure the focus of the blog was really what I wanted it to be.

As I've been writing these first few posts I have come to realize that the focus I have been working with is still a bit too broad. I have been trying to address the needs of beginning photographers and non-photographers as well as enthusiastic amateurs and their needs are just too disparate to treat really well in one monolithic blog.

So I will be splitting off the advice for beginners and non-photographers into two more static web sites since I believe that one of the problems both of those groups have when trying to meet their needs on the internet is that there is too much information available and it is difficult to determine what parts of that information will meet their needs.

Each of these web sites will have a finite number of topics which they will address. The only part of each of them which will change significantly over time will be the equipment recommendations which I will update as new cameras come out and old ones disappear. Each of these sites will also have videos, books, ebooks and podcasts presenting basically the same content so each person can choose the format which works best for them.

This will leave this weblog primarily for enthusiastic amateurs to explore how to have more fun with their photography and find ways to enjoy it more. The topics discussed here will be led by whatever part of the photographic world I am currently obsessing over, but I think the topics I am interested in are diverse and multitudinous enough that it should keep the blog lively and interesting.


Helping your family tolerate your photography

A comment on Mostly Photo, a new podcast from the TWIT network prompted the thoughts below on what to do if your family complains that you take too many photos at family events or on vacation.

1. Get kids and family members involved in the process. My wife was less inclined to stop for photos on our trips until she got a decent camera and started joining in on the photo portions of our trips. Buy your kids "kid cameras" as soon as they can hold one and push the button and a decent digital camera as soon as their dexterity is up to it.

2. Get them involved in low-stakes photography assignments in between family trips to get them used to photography as a fun thing to do. Ask your child to be the photographer for your birthday party or some other family event that would not otherwise be terribly exciting for them (don't ask them to photograph another child's party where they would probably have many other things to distract them. Work with them to make a photo book of the event on blurb.com, etc.. Also work with them periodically to make small books of photos that they take on their own.

3. When planning a family trip, plan in advance to create a photo book using photos from all members of the family. Decide together what locations and shots you want to get, what story you want to tell and perhaps draw up a simple storyboard. Assign each family member to get particular shots. Perhaps have recurring shots built in such as self-timer shots of the whole family in front of the Eiffel tower, Big Ben, etc. or a wide angle shot of one of you holding a souvenir of each building in front of the building so the souvenir (and the family member) looks bigger than the building. Have each kid research the best photo opportunities in a particular place.

4. Bring the video cables for each of your cameras and have a slide show each night around the hotel room TV. Make sure you build in time before it for each person to delete their duds (or delete them while your are traveling from one site to another).

5. If this still doesn't give you enough time to shoot without annoying them, just let them know that you will be out of the room early in the morning, get up before everyone else, and shoot during the magic hour around sunrise. Arrange your mealtimes to be either before or after sunset and plan on doing an hour or so of concentrated photography during the magic hour at sunset and the blue hour immediately after it. Anyone who wants to join you for that can do so, or they can hang out in the hotel. Just about everybody needs a bit of time alone, no matter how close your family is.

6. For birthdays, family reunions, graduations, etc., schedule a separate event or part of the event where everyone gets together in their good clothes before they get messed up for a formal or semi-formal group photograph in the environment of that day. Make a special event of it and make it fun in its own right. Again, get everyone involved in planning the photo shoot and have an opportunity for people to take turns shooting.

Mostly Photo can be found at: http://twit.tv/photo .

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

There are several aspects of my own photography that I want to work on and change so that they are more enjoyable to me. I will be discussing that change process here. Hopefully some of the questions that I will be asking and some of the research that I will be doing will help you get more enjoyment out of your photography as well.

The aspects of my photography that want to work on are:
1. Image capture
2. Organization and selection
3. Processing
4. Sharing

I will be exploring image sharing first, then bouncing back and forth through the other topics over the next few weeks.

Sharing Images

The vast majority of the images I make are only ever seen by myself and sometimes my wife. Even after weeding out the 90% of those images which I feel are not good enough to show to anyone else, that still leaves many hundreds more than I would ever want to subject even my best friends to, given that I have tens of thousands of images on my hard drive and who knows how many more on film in my files.

There are many different ways to share photos, but each of them has its pluses and minuses so I will be looking at several different ways of sharing photos which I want to use in combination to get the best of all worlds.

Facebook is one of the photo sharing sites that I already use and it is very useful for sharing photos that my friends and family might be interested in. But there probably aren't many other people who will see them there. Facebook is also very fleeting. Yes people can go back through my old albums and occasionally someone does, but for the most part, people see them when I first post them and many people may only ever see the first image in each album. Also, if any of them want to download or print any of my images. Facebook is not really set up to facilitate that and they will usually only get a very low resolution screen-shot quality image if they do know enough to be able to grab it.

Flickr does get more of my scenic and non-family photos out to a larger audience and they can get those printed or download them if I give them permission to. But again, for the most part, photos posted to Flickr are very fleeting. People look at them and comment on them when they are first posted, but then go on to the next million images that are posted to Flickr continuously.

So, as well as these momentary online sharing experiences, I am also looking for the best way to create books of my photos, prints, e-books and more permanent stores of images. Some to share with family, others to share with the whole world. And I am looking for better ways to share some of my images online. Ways that will facilitate a more in-depth and longer lasting discussion of the images as well as allowing other people to easily upload their photos to some of my albums.

I will be looking closely at Picasa, SmugMug, pBase, Blurb and as many other photo sharing and book and photo printing sites as I can find, to determine which of them will work best for me. I'll report back here with what I find. But in the meantime, what photo sharing and printing services do you use and why?

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Four "W"s and an "H" of Photography: Part 1, What Do You Like To Photograph?

Spending some time thinking about the five questions I will be asking in the next few posts can help you decide many questions including what type of photographic training you want to take, what you want to spend your photography time doing and what equipment you want to invest in.

These questions can be helpful whether you are a casual photographer, an enthusiastic amateur a beginning photography student or an aspiring professional. more dedicated photographers may have more complex and extensive answers to these questions but I think they are useful to consider whether your answers are simple or complex.

1. What do you like to photograph?

One of the great luxuries that amateur photographers have and professionals usually don't is that you are perfectly free to photograph only those subject that interest you. If what you really love to photograph is birds or sports or model railroads, there is nothing to stop you from spending all of your photographic time devoted to that one subject.

Professional photographers need to be ready to photograph whatever type of subject their clients need so they often need to own or have access to a wide range of expensive equipment and they need to make sure they have the training and practice that is required for all of the types of photography that they may be called on to do.

As an amateur, you do not necessarily need to invest as heavily to get what you really want out of photography. Whether you need to invest in expensive equipment at all is dependent to some extent on what you want to photograph. If you most enjoy photographing birds in the wild you will need to invest in at least one good long lens and a single lens reflex camera of some sort, but if you most enjoy travel and landscape photography, it is possible to get great enjoyment out of photographing with much less expensive equipment (depending on your answers to some of the other upcoming questions). And if you know for sure that you will only ever want to make pictures of buildings, you can devote the time you have available to training in architectural photography and forgo classes on portraiture, candid photography, nature photography, etc.

Of course many people who love photography simply for its own sake (as I do) may want to take a wide variety of classes but even so, they will probably reach a point where they will want to take more classes in the types of photography that most interest them and scale back on the types that interest them less.

In future posts I will be discussing the requirements of specific types of photography in greater detail but for now, take some time to think about what types of subjects you most like to photograph and what the probable needs of those subjects might be. Are they things that are very fast and far away such as birds, wild animals or most sports? Then long lenses and tripods may be warranted. Are they very tiny things such as insects, coins or jewelry? Then macro photography gear would be useful. Are you interested in candid photography or photographing musicians performing? Fast lenses and a camera that performs well in low light might be what you need. But to get a full picture of what will work best for you will depend also on your answers to the other four questions including the next one

2. What aspects of photography do you most enjoy?

I personally enjoy going out and capturing new images more than just about any other aspect of photography, but if you enjoy working in the darkroom or sitting in front of your computer manipulating your images to make them exactly the way you want them to be, by all means spend more of your time doing that.

Do you like looking at other photographers' work, reading about the history of photography or going out with shooting with other photographers? Think about which of these or any other aspects of photography you enjoy most and devote more of your time, money and energy to the parts of the photographic experience that you enjoy most.

Do you enjoy collecting and/or using old cameras? Do you enjoy playing with new gadgets? It is up to you if you want to invest your time or money in those things. But if gadget lust is one of the things you enjoy, be honest with yourself about it and decide how much you want to spend on it as an end in itself. The money you spend on new and expensive gear probably will not make you a better photographer but if you enjoy using it and feel that enjoyment is worth the expenditure (and can convince your spouse that it is), by all means go for it.

3. Who is your photography for?

Do you make photographs solely for your own enjoyment? Do you make them to share with your friends and family? Or do you make them to share with the whole world?

Do your answers to these questions affect the level of artistic and technical perfection you want hold your photographs to? If you want to enter your images into competitions or exhibit them in galleries, you may find that you want to invest more time, thought and money into that then you would if you were only making photos for yourself. And you may find that those you produce for friends and family fall somewhere in the middle.

I find that the knowledge that I will never show some of my photos to anyone else allows me to be much freer artistically with those images than I ever would otherwise. Some of my personal favorites of my images may be too blurry, overexposed or oddly composed for me to ever show them to others, but I still get personal enjoyment out of them and am glad that I produced them.

When you do decide to share some of your photos with others, whether they be friends and relative or a larger group, one of the best things you can do for them is to edit your photos heavily. Don't share every single photo that you took with them. Choose the best ten or twenty and just share those. And the further afield you go, the more you want to edit them. Your relatives may enjoy a slightly less than perfect image just because it is of their favorite niece or grandson, but people who don't know you from Adam will be less willing to look through a mix of good and not so good pictures.

4. Why do you photograph?

What about photography excites and interests you?

It would take me longer than I would ever want to write to list all of the many reasons why I photograph, but here are two to start you thinking about it.

I love that photography helps me to see the world in many different ways. Seeing the world through the eyes of another photographer, knowing what they choose to focus on and what is important to them, how they experience the world, helps to make my experience of the world greater and richer than it would be without their help.

And seeing the world through the lens of my own camera, from all the different angles and perspectives that it affords, helps me to appreciate all of the things that I see, both everyday objects and monumental scenes in ways that would never occur to me otherwise. The ability to see things that are very small or very far away, to isolate just one component of a scene or to juxtapose several items which would not be apparent to the naked eye, or to see things from much lower or higher than my eyes would usually be, affect the way I see things and experience the world even when I am not looking through my viewfinder.

I am also fascinated by the camera's ability to capture a moment in time; to bring me back in an instant to a place and time I was in many years ago; to put me back in the frame of mind I was in taking my first photographs with my parent's box camera or exploring the world through my first SLR during high school and college.

It can also take me back to places and times I never knew; to my Grandfather's experience of his newborn daughter or a stranger's view of 1890's Paris.

5. How much do you want to invest in your photography?

How much time do you want to spend on your photography? How much thought, effort and energy do you want to put into it? How much money do you want to spend on it?

For everything you do in life, you have to choose not to do other things. What are you willing to give up and how much of it in order to go to photo workshops and classes, spend time out photographing or inside adjusting and producing images? How important a part of your life is photography? What is more important or as important? What is the proper balance for you between photography and everything else you want to do?

Would you rather spend all of the time you have for travel going on photography excursions or would you prefer to balance your time between that and family vacations?

When you are on vacation, how much effort are you willing to put into carrying around and keeping track of camera gear? Is one pocket camera all you want to carry or are you willing to carry a bag full of cameras, lenses and tripods if that is necessary for the photographs you want to make?

How much of your time to you want to spend studying photography, contemplating your photographs and how to improve them and enjoying the work of other photographers?

What other purchases are you willing to forgo in order to go to the photography classes and buy the gear that you want?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Definitions: What I mean by "Casual Photographer", "Non-photographer" and "Enthusiastic Amateur"

Casual Photographer

This is someone who enjoys making photographs of a few particular types of things that interest them such as their children, the places they go on vacation or their hobbies, but don't particularly want to invest a lot of time in photography for its own sake. They may be interested in investing modest amounts of time and money into improving their photography so that their picture look better and the act of making them is less frustrating, but not becoming obsessed with it.


I personally consider any person who has ever taken even one photograph to be a photographer. But many people start out any conversation about photography: "Well, I'm not a photographer..." So the advice tagged with this term is for them.

These may be people who are not really interested in learning anything about photography, they may find the actual process of taking photographs to be frustrating or unpleasant but feel pressure from relatives to share at least a few snapshots of their children. Or perhaps they need to take pictures for their job.

I believe that it is possible for those people to make or have access to photographs which satisfy their needs even if they do not want to learn anything about photography. So some of my posts will be directed towards helping them.

The fact that you are not interested in learning more about photography or investing large amounts of time and money in it does not mean that you should not be able to have decent photographs of your family and the things that you care about.

One of the wonderful things about photography is that there are as many ways of enjoying it as there are people in the world.

And if you enjoy the end result of looking at photos but not the act of creating them, I will have advice for you here on how you can get more out of photography with as little investment of time and money possible. Just click on the category "non-photographer" or search on that term in the search box to see articles written for you.

Enthusiastic Amateur

This is the category I see myself in. "Amateur Photographer" is such a broad category that it is difficult to to direct advice to that whole group. The term "amateur" has also gotten a bad rap in the past few decades. Its original meaning was a person who does something simply for the love of doing it and I want to reclaim that meaning here.

But there is a subset of that group who are truly enthusiastic in their love of photography. They enjoy photography just for its own sake. They enjoy making photographs even if they do not have any particular subject they need to depict. They enjoy learning about and exploring many different aspects of photography and desire to increase their knowledge of all things photographic throughout their whole life.

Although some of these enthusiastic amateurs may at some point decide to become professional photographers and some may just fall into a circumstance where they start making money from some of their photographs, my remarks here will be directed towards them purely as amateurs, not as prospective professionals, as I believe that those groups have very different needs and one of my main goals here is to address the needs of amateurs that are different from professionals or prospective professionals.