A Traveler’s Crash Course on Taking Good Photos and Video

photographing pyramids

 

So, you’re going on a trip and you want to make a great slideshow or video about it when you return, but you don’t have time to study how.  Following is a crash course on taking good travel photos and video clips, including what to take, and what to do.

What to take:

A camera that travels well and takes reasonably high resolution photos (10 megapixels or more), and also video; HD video is best.  I prefer a small point-and-shoot camera that fits in my pocket.

Plenty of formatted memory cards.  Keep in mind that video files are very large, so if you plan to use video in your eventual production you’ll need to use fast-write memory cards with large capacity.  16 GB ones are good, and I’d recommend using several of these rather than 32 or 64 GB ones. Even the best of cards sometimes fail, so it’s wise not to put too many of your shots on one, for if it fails you will have lost so much more than if you had put your eggs in several baskets. Whenever you use a card for the first time your camera will call for you to format it.  But, even if you plan to use a card you’ve used before, format it before you leave for your trip.  Why?  Because when cards are erased, there is invisible data left on the card, which accumulates over long usage; and if a card is not re-formatted from time to time that residual data can cause a card to malfunction.

A plug-in charger to recharge your battery, and a current converter if you plan to use it in a country where the house current receptacles are different from those in the U.S.

Optional: An extra camera battery is a good idea, especially in places where house current is unreliable, for you may not have time to recharge your battery before the next photo op.

Some cameras use AA batteries.  If yours does, take a large pack of replacements along.

A small lens brush, for lightly whisking the dust off your camera lens, if necessary.  (Don’t rub the lens if it’s smudged!  Clean it properly when you have some lens cleaning solution and time to do the job carefully.

Optional: A digital sound recorder, or even a cassette tape recorder will provide useful background sounds for your video.  You could use the sound tracks from  video files, but video files take a lot of storage space, and recordings made with a sound recorder will likely have better fidelity.

What to do:

Know your camera.  Digital cameras are complicated, and you may not know everything about yours, but at least know how to do the following:

Put your camera in automatic mode for most situations.

Use “scene” exposure settings for special lighting conditions.  Many cameras have scene settings for fast action (“sports”), beach (very bright), night time (very little light), etc.

Use forced flash when persons you are trying to photograph have bright light behind them.  The forced flash will lighten their faces, provided you stand close enough.
How to switch to video mode and back again to picture mode, quickly.

For using more complicated features of your camera, photo copy relevant pages of your camera’s manual and take those along.  Don’t take the whole manual because you might lose it.  If you don’t own a manual, go online and download one.  Google “manual” and the make and model number of your camera; or go to the manufacturer’s website, look for links to “support” and then, “manual.”

Move up close! Point-and-shoot cameras are outfitted with wide-angle lenses.  These are meant to take in a lot, left and right, but they will not show subjects close up unless you move in.  If you’re photographing persons to feature their faces, frame just their shoulders and heads.  Don’t be bashful, move in!  Ask permission from people when you do so, because they will likely be camera shy.

Hold your camera steady with both hands.  Yes, it’s small enough to hold with one, but use two.  You’ll get clearer shots.

If possible, set your camera to take pictures with the same aspect ratio as the video it records. Aspect ratio is the ratio of the width of a graphic file (photo or video) to its height.  HD video, the preferred mode of video these days, has a 16:9 aspect ratio.  If your camera has a 16:9 photo setting, use that.  This will ensure that the content of the photo will fill the entire movie frame.  There will be no black space around the edges when the movie is shown.

If possible, avoid shooting toward a bright light, unless you want to end up with just silhouettes. If you must shoot into a bright light, use forced flash.  Forced flash tells your camera’s flash to fire even though the meter says there’s enough light for a picture to be taken.  When you’re shooting toward a bright light the meter won’t give a proper reading for the subjects, and your picture will come out underexposed.

Use posed pictures sparingly. Candid shots of subjects doing something will help tell your story merely by what they show.  Posed pictures require an explanation, and this interrupts the flow of your story.

Take your shots from a variety of distances. Take some far away, some at a medium distance, but take many close-ups.  All three varieties are important to story telling, but the close-ups are most valuable in computer-presented video because what the viewer sees is so small.  Plus, close-ups are more emotionally engaging.

Set your camera to take the highest resolution of photos possible.  Even if you plan to use your end-product just for the Web, do so still.  You will want very large picture files if you choose to zoom in on a still in your slideshow or movie, and when you do this, only a large file will preserve the crisp look of the file.

If your camera has a RAW setting, use that. RAW photographs contain the most digital information, which permits the greatest latitude later for making corrections. The person who makes your slideshow or video will be glad to receive source files with abundant information for fine-tuning.

When videoing persons talking to an audience, shoot sparingly. Talking heads are boring.  Use video just to introduce the speaking subject.  Then, use stills to relate the rest of the story. If you feel the subject’s speech is important for telling your story, record it with a sound recorder.

Use video where there is interesting motion and/or sound. Use it to show people doing things, making things, interacting.

If there is interesting sound, such as birdsong, the sound of surf, distant singing, etc., and you lack a sound recorder, then make a video clip just for the sound. Point the camera at the ground if you wish, because you’re making the clip just for the sound, not the visual content.  Later the editor will strip the sound track away from the visual track, so it doesn’t matter what’s in the latter.

If you have time to study more detailed instructions, consult the following CyberKenBlog posts about getting good exposure, getting good focus, and composing your shots well, and recording “room tone.”

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