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Lifestyle

Spelunking with your camera

Filed in Lifestyle, Tips by on May 25, 2017 0 Comments
Spelunking with your camera

I love visiting caves. First of all, they’re great on hot days when the outside world is oppressive, because they’re usually a nice cool refrigerator temperature inside. But they’re also beautiful—caves are full of interesting structures and formations that you don’t see anywhere else in the world, and if you’re not taking photographs when you’re visiting one of these beautiful places, you are missing out. Keep reading for some tips on how to get amazing photos in commercial caves.

[Top image Cave Adventure by Flickr user darkday.]

It can be really tricky to take photographs inside of a cave. First of all, commercial caves may have a lot of restrictions placed on photographers, from a moratorium against tripods to outright banning flash. The good news is that modern camera technology gives us a lot of ways around these restrictions, so you just have to have a plan and a good understanding of how to capture fabulous photographs in low light.

##Protect your gear

The first thing to remember about commercial caves is that they are made out of rock. Your camera and solid rock aren’t friends. And quite often you are going to be walking down staircases, ducking through narrow walkways with low ceilings, and there is going to be rock sticking out at all angles pretty much everywhere you go. If your camera isn’t protected, that may be the end of your camera (and I won’t even mention the part where the park service will really not appreciate you bashing your camera against those fragile stalagmites). Make sure you’re carrying your camera on a strap around your neck so there’s no risk of dropping it, and carry it in front of your body so that there’s no chance of bashing it against a wall or staircase. It’s a good idea to put your camera in a padded sleeve instead of wearing it naked around your neck—that is going to help protect against unexpected happenings like if you stumble over a step or encounter a protrusion you didn’t see in the dark. And I probably don’t need to lecture you too much about your own personal safety—commercial caving operations aren’t going to let you in without a helmet, knee pads or other safety gear (depending on if you’re on a walking tour or are planning to repel into the cave). So follow all safety guidelines laid out by the operation, and don’t do anything or go anywhere that isn’t permitted on the tour.

##What to bring

It’s useful to ask in advance whether or not tripods are allowed—if you’re taking a tour, it’s probably going to be moving along pretty quickly, so it might be worth asking if it’s okay for you to hang back for a few minutes while you set up your tripod and take a photo. Be prepared, however, to be told that tripods simply aren’t allowed—most tours just prefer to not have to worry about someone who might spend too much time lagging behind the group or getting in the way. If you are told that tripods are OK, make sure you have a tripod with a quick release so you can set up and break down quickly and avoid inconveniencing anyone (the last thing you want is to be the guy that convinced them to adopt a “no tripod” policy). If the cave allows self-guided tours or private tours, that might be a better option—just be sure you’re not getting in the way of other groups of people.

https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/girl-camera-cave-627751568?src=xq_9qhmWJjLOGTk4MOv3tg-1-10

If tripods are allowed, make sure you also have some way to remotely release your shutter, because you don’t want to muck up that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with camera shake. If you have a remote shutter release bring one, if not, make sure you know how to use your camera’s self timer. Most commercial caves are well-lit enough that you won’t need to use shutter speeds in excess of 30 seconds, so your self-timer function should be enough. Just set it to countdown five seconds and that should be enough time for the vibration to cease before the shutter actually opens.

Most commercial caves allow flash photography, but some don’t. It’s always a good idea to find out what the policy is for the cave you’re planning to visit, since the answer will impact your decisions about what addtional gear you might need to bring with you. If the cave does allow flash, make sure you’re using an off-camera flash. On-camera flash really isn’t going to produce satisfying pictures—because it’s direct, you’re not going to get a lot of detail-defining shadow, and you’re probably also going to get unwanted anomalies such as glare, especially off of damp surfaces (which tend to be everywhere inside of caves). And because caves are often full of airborne moisture, you may end up with images that have a hazy appearance, which can happen when that direct light reflects off those airborne water particles and back towards the camera.

You can use your external flash with a synch cord or with a slave unit—the synch chord is a connected way of firing the flash at the same time as you make the exposure, while the slave unit is a remote trigger. But if you’re using a tripod you may find it simpler to just put your camera in bulb mode and then walk to wherever you need the light, and fire it manually. This is going to give you a lot of flexibility because it will allow you to add light to multiple parts of the scene in a single exposure. Remember also to adjust the strength of your flash if you’re getting light that seems too bright or overly harsh.

It’s a very good idea to shoot in RAW since it’s going to be difficult to predict the color of the light. In commercial caves, the light is likely to be incandescent, but if you’re adding flash then you’re going to have more of a mixed-lighting situation. Because it’s extremely simple to adjust white balance after the fact when you’re shooting in RAW, it’s a very good idea to put your camera in that mode so that you can adjust the white balance later if you didn’t get it right in camera. And because you run the risk of over under-exposing in certain areas especially in those dimly lit caves, shooting in RAW will capture the most detail that your camera is capable of capturing, which means that you’ll be able to make exposure corrections as well.

This is also an excellent argument for lowering your ISO. Your photos are going to have some dark areas, and higher ISOs will increase the chance of noise appearing in those places. Try not to deliberately underexpose photos with the idea of lightening them later in post-processing because that can actually exacerbate the noise problem. If you’re going to be hand-holding your your camera (which may be necessary if you’re taking a guided tour), err on the side of overexposing at higher ISOs rather than underexposing at lower ISOs. If you’re lucky enough to be allowed a tripod, keep your ISO low and opt for longer shutter speeds.

Warm glow

Ideally, you want to shoot at larger apertures instead of higher ISOs, so bring a 50mm prime lens if you have one. A 50mm prime lens has a maximum available aperture of at least f/1.8, which will allow you to shoot in those darker underground conditions. If you are on a group tour, you can take a few photos with your off-camera flash but remember to be courteous—most people are going to find it really annoying to have that flash going off repeatedly over the course of the tour, so save your flash for only the most photo-worthy rooms in the cave.

##Use a wide-angle lens

Most of the caverns in a cave are quite spectacular in scale, depending of course on the individual cave. It does pay to have a zoom lens with a wide end, say 17 to 35. Without that wide angle it’s difficult to capture the scale and structure of acavern, so it’s nice to have a wide end as well as a somewhat narrower end for shooting details. You can bring multiple lenses but remember that there’s a lot of moisture in the air inside a cave, and moisture could lead to condensation inside your camera if you’re switching lenses. It’s best to avoid too much lens-switching while you’re inside the cave, and avoid it altogether if possible.

https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/postojna-sloveniamay-17-2015-beautiful-stalactites-580475509?irgwc=1&utm_medium=Affiliate&utm_campaign=Eezy%20Inc&utm_source=38919

Another thing that can help create a sense of scale in your photographs is to add a person—place your subject at the mouth of the cave, for example, then stand back a little and use a wide angle lens to capture the scene (remember that you’ll need to expose for the cave itself or your camera may default to exposing for those elements outside the mouth of the cave). The diminutive size of the person compared to the mouth of the cave and the cavern itself will create a sense of enormity in your image, which can help communicate three dimensions to your viewer.

##Conclusion

It’s worth noting that the presence of your camera may cut back somewhat on the adventurous parts of your cave visit—don’t expect to be doing a whole lot of repelling or crawling around on your belly with your expensive DSLR in tow, unless of course you promise not to blame me for the destruction of your gear. While it certainly is possible to spelunk in an extreme sort of way with your gear, you do so at your own risk. And even if you don’t plan to do anything claustrophobic, remember that not only are caves full of potential camera-destroying hazards, but a camera whacked hard against a feature of the cave can also cause damage to the cave as well. So exercise great caution and if you’re at all concerned, consider buying a military style case to protect your gear from bumps and moisture. And don’t forget courtesy, too, the last thing you want is to be banished from a commercial cave because you didn’t follow the rules. Above all, make sure you take as much time as is allowed to think through your photos, and take lots of them. Consider your cave visit to be a once-in-a-great while opportunity, so make the best of it.

##Summary

1. Protect your gear
– Carry your camera in front of you
– Choose a soft body case
– Don’t change lenses while in the cave
2. What to bring
– Ask if tripod or flash is allowed
– If tripods are permitted, bring a remote release
– Use an external flash
3. Shoot in RAW
4. Keep your ISO low
5. Shoot at larger apertures
6. Use a wide-angle lens
7. Include a person to give the image a sense of scale

Shoot where you live, or, how to photograph life in your community

Filed in Lifestyle, Tips by on April 15, 2017 0 Comments
Shoot where you live, or, how to photograph life in your community

Sometimes the hardest photos to take are the ones of the places we are most familiar with. When was the last time you took a walk through your own neighborhood and found interesting things to photograph? If you’re like many people, you probably haven’t spent a lot of time doing that at all. Usually, when we decide to go out in search of photographs, we leave the places that are familiar behind in favor of unfamiliar, new, and therefore interesting things to take pictures out. But if you ignore the photographic potential of your own neighborhood, you are actually doing yourself a disservice. Not only are you missing out on photographs that will be important to you personally in the years to come, you are also missing out on photographic opportunities that you didn’t even know existed.

##Exploring your neighborhood

Whether you live in the suburbs, in a rural community or in a city center, start by walking around your own neighborhood. Spend some time looking at the details. Try to see the place you live through the eyes of someone who doesn’t live there. Try to view your neighbor’s fence or that row of mailboxes in a different way. Are there any interesting textures or patterns that you might be able to capture? What about color? Are there any places that you’ve never explored in your own neighborhood? Let’s say you never really gone into the local mom-and-pop market, or you’ve never stood at the top of the hill at the end of your street. It could be that you’ve never really spent a lot of time walking around your neighborhood at all—if you make an effort to explore the once-unseen corners of your community, you’ll almost certainly find details that surprise you. And if you traverse your neighborhood on foot, you’ll also notice that things look really different from the sidewalk than they do from the driver’s seat of your car.

The Old Neighborhood

##Try to capture a sense of life where you live

Your neighborhood, like any neighborhood in the world, has its own unique qualities and personality. Things happen in your neighborhood roughly the same way they happen all over the world, but with a certain unique tempo. For example, it could be that your neighbor three doors down always begins his morning by retrieving the newspaper off of his driveway (yes, it’s true, some people do still subscribe to the morning paper). It could be that your other neighbor always goes for a jog or walks the dog. As the day progresses, neighbors get in cars, take their kids to school, or send older kids off to the bus stop. Shops open for business, people pick up coffee, people go to work, have lunch and come home again—and those routines change only as people move in and out of the neighborhood.

If you know your neighbors very well, start by informing them that you plan to spend a day photographing life in your neighborhood. If they know what you’re up to, they’re going to be less surprised (and possibly annoyed) when they see you out there first thing in the morning snapping pictures of them as they get to their cars to go to work. And if you don’t know your neighbors very well, try to focus on the less personal details, or use this project as an excuse to knock on doors and introduce yourself. Being open about what you’re doing is going to help avoid the perception that you’re a weird stalker with a camera—that’s the last thing you want said about you, especially in your own neighborhood. And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that you should always get permission to photograph someone else’s child—even if it’s somebody you know.

Now when you’re working on this project, don’t just hang back and shoot everything as it happens. Think about how you can capture life where you live in an interesting and unusual way—even if there isn’t much that happens in your neighborhood that could be classified as interesting or unusual. Try to get some close shots. Look at the details. For example, instead of just zooming in on your neighbor as she embarks on her morning walk with her dog, try to capture the expression on the dog’s face. Try to capture that moment when she first puts the leash on her dog’s collar. Zoom in, and capture those moments that transpire between people and animals, or between two people, or between people and whatever it is that happen to be doing.

Jogger, the Green

##Street photography (even in the suburbs)

Neighborhoods and their personalities can vary a lot. You may live in an area that mostly has houses and not a lot of services—if that’s the case you may have to spread out a little and find the places where people congregate. Parks make good locations for this type of work, or you can go a little further and take photographs at cafés or corner stores. Even if you’re in the suburbs, this is still a form of street photography, so you’ll need to gather your courage. A lot of people find it exceedingly difficult to photograph strangers, and if that’s you, you’ll have to adopt a new strategy. For example, you can try stealth photography—a smart phone is great for that because you can pretend to be doing something else on it while you are secretly photographing suburbanites in their natural environment. You can also shoot from the hip, which is a technique that involves selecting a narrow aperture to assist with blind focusing, and taking pictures while your camera is hanging on a strap around your neck or literally at your hip. When you’re not looking through your viewfinder, people aren’t usually going to suspect that you’re taking photographs, and that will help you feel bolder. Shooting from the hip is fun but it does take some time to master, so if you’re not getting great results right away, keep trying. That one magical shot out of dozens that maybe didn’t work so well will really help get you hooked on this technique.

If you’re not planning to be stealthy, you can take one of a few different approaches. First, you can shoot first and not ask any questions later. A lot of street photographers just walk straight up to the person they want to photograph, take the picture, and walk away. Most of the time your subject is going to be so surprised that they won’t be able to think of anything to say to you before you disappear. Your next approach could be to simply strike up a conversation with your potential subject and then ask him whether or not you can take his picture. I think you’ll be surprised by how many people are flattered and perfectly willing to be your subject. Just keep in mind that you may get less natural photos, because your subject is naturally going to be attempting to pose for the camera. So once you’ve obtained permission, try to carry on the conversation so you can capture some natural expressions of the person laughing, or thinking seriously about serious questions. The less posed the photo will looks, the better.

If you don’t think photographing strangers (or even your neighbors) is necessarily for you, that doesn’t mean that you can’t still capture images of your neighborhood. Focus more on the non-animate elements of life where you live, such as fallen leaves on the sidewalk, or squirrels in the trees. If you live in a more rural area, try taking photographs of livestock or interesting outbuildings like barns and sheds. You could also shoot fences—weathered fences in particular make for interesting photos.

##Patterns

Suburban neighborhoods have occasionally been criticized for being a little cookie cutter. If your neighborhood fits into that mold, try to capture the repetitiveness of the houses and yards as a pattern. If there are any identical houses in your neighborhood, consider taking pictures of all of the similarities. For example, you can stand on the sidewalk and try to capture two or more identical homes in the same frame. You can do the same with similar mailboxes, similar cars, or similar people. Don’t forget those perfect, manicured lawns—the truth is that some people in suburban neighborhoods like to create a pretense that everything is perfect when it may not be, so if you can find the one flaw in that otherwise perfect landscape, capture it for a photo that contains some irony.

##Conclusion

I won’t lie—photographing your own neighborhood can be a little bit of a challenge. It can be hard to find inspiration in ordinary places, and the place where you live can, on the surface, seem pretty ordinary. But the truth is that you can find something interesting to photograph no matter where you go, so if you’re not feeling inspired right away don’t worry, just keep looking around and eventually a subject will reveal itself to you.

##Summary:

1. Explore your neighborhood
2. Capture a sense of life where you live
– Photograph your neighbors (with permission)
– Try to find a unique perspective
3. Suburban street photography
– Use stealth techniques (smartphones, shooting from the hip)
– Shoot without asking, or
– Get to know your subject first, then ask permission
4. Look for patterns
– Photograph cookie-cutter houses or mailboxes
– Look for flaws

Photographing Thanks

Photographing Thanks

It’s true that Thanksgiving is primarily an American holiday, but there’s no reason why you need to live in America to photograph the things you are thankful for. The sentiment of Thanksgiving is a universal one – we all have things in our lives that we’re grateful for, whether we celebrate them with a formal occasion or not. So what better month than November to express thanks through photography? Keep reading for some great ideas.
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Photographing Indoor Celebrations

Photographing Indoor Celebrations

Sometimes it seems like the weather is constantly driving us inside. It’s either too cold to have that outdoor party, or it’s too hot. It’s raining, or it’s snowing, or it’s too humid. There are definitely more reasons to cancel an outdoor party then there are to keep it where it is. So what do you do when it’s your job to take pictures of that outdoor event, but the venue suddenly changes to an indoor one? Keep reading to find out. Continue Reading »

Out of Ideas? Try These Five Things to Photograph

Out of Ideas? Try These Five Things to Photograph

Sometimes there really doesn’t seem to be anything to take pictures of.

Your house is boring. Your backyard is boring. Your kids are playing video games so, you know, right now they’re pretty boring too. You’re tired of the same old, same old, and you need some inspiration.

Fortunately, despite how you may feel at this particular moment, there really is no such thing as boring when it comes to photography. If you look hard enough, you can always find some new way to feel inspired or some new trick to try. One of the first things I suggest is to just page through my list of tips and tricks – there’s almost certainly something here you’ve never tried before. But if that seems like a daunting task, have a quick read through these ideas instead.
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How to Photograph the Zombie Apocalypse

How to Photograph the Zombie Apocalypse

You know it’s true. You are a human being, and that means you love a good zombie apocalypse.

OK, so maybe I exaggerate, maybe not everyone loves zombies. But there’s no question that as the Halloween season approaches, ghouls and goblins are on everyone’s mind. And for some reason, zombies are at the top of everyone’s list of favorite monsters. People love zombies, zombie movies, and seasonal zombie paraphernalia. I even have some friends who had a zombie wedding. So let’s have a little fun this month and take some pictures not just of those cute little trick-or-treaters, but of those decidedly less-cute zombies that are going to start wandering the streets in the days to come. Does that sound like a challenge? I hope so!
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How to Photograph People at Work

How to Photograph People at Work

We all love a beautiful studio portrait. Who doesn’t want to see their loved one posed beautifully in front of a pristine backdrop, dressed in a smart suit or gorgeous dress with a perfect smile? This is how we tend to think of portraits, whether they are school portraits, family portraits, wedding portraits, or new baby portraits—they are all some version of the above, beautiful but staged.

There’s nothing wrong with that approach, of course (if there was then a whole lot of portrait photographers would be out of work). But there’s something that’s left out of those shots, some element that grounds that image in reality. We all know that our loved ones are beautiful, but what do those portraits really say about them as people? Sure, you could add a soccer ball or a guitar to one of those poses, but that’s really only scratching the surface of who they are deep down. To really capture the spirit of a person, try taking a photograph of him at work. Read on to find out how. Continue Reading »

How to Shoot Surreal Photos Without Post-Processing

How to Shoot Surreal Photos Without Post-Processing

The cool thing about photography is that people have certain expectations about it. Why is that cool? Because when people have certain expectations, you can really make a big impact when you do things that shatter those expectations. Keep reading to find out how.
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How to Photograph Martial Arts

How to Photograph Martial Arts

Some photos practically take themselves. What could be simpler than photographing a beautiful landscape or a laughing child?

However, other subjects can be difficult to master. Take indoor Martial Arts for example. At face value it should be pretty easy to shoot martial artists, right? I mean, martial arts tournaments are full of action, and action makes for great photos. Unfortunately, it’s not all that simple. There are many quirks and potential problems of photographing this fast, often low-light sport to learn before you can take great photos of it.
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13 Tips for Inspired Concert Photography

13 Tips for Inspired Concert Photography

Concerts are a symbiotic experience, each one unique to the music, the musicians, and the audience. The reciprocal nature appeals to us on a visceral level. It’s a way to connect with people over a shared interest and at times, a shared adrenaline rush. Of course, it is then natural, to want to capture the natural high only found when your heart is in sync with the bass drum. As photographers our first instinct is to bring the camera along and take the experience home with us in the form of photographs. Concert photography is a particularly difficult medium because of the varied and rapidly changing lighting situations, masses of people, and quickly moving musicians. Here are the basics for concert photography that will live up to your memories.
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How to Highlight a Different Culture in Your Images

How to Highlight a Different Culture in Your Images

If you go on National Geographic’s website and look at all the contributing photographers, it seems as though everyone has access to all sorts of international locations and exotic places. From underwater to rural blacksmith shops to downtown London or Paris to portraits of old Chinese men and women or these dancers in India, international flavor abounds. After all, that’s what National Geographic is known for, and is also what makes it intimidating for amateur photographers to tap into. Because of this, I’d like to address some key points to highlighting different cultures in your images.
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Humor in photography

Humor in photography

They say that laughter increases your lifespan. If that’s true, you might want to try adding a little humor to your photographic repertoire.

It won’t be an easy task. Humor is actually one of the more challenging photographic subjects. There aren’t really any compositional rules or camera settings or filters you can use in your pursuit of that laugh-out-loud image. And photographic humor is different than cracking a joke or relating a funny story. It can be easy to overdo humor in a photograph – and overdone humor means that your viewer is more likely to roll her eyes than laugh out loud. Sometimes subtlety is the best course of action; sometimes in-your-face humor is the way to go. The choice will depend largely on the situation.
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Finding Inspiration

Finding Inspiration

It’s called “creative block”, and it’s an ugly beast. All artists complain of it at some point in their lives, even great ones. It can happen to you when you’re immersed in the doldrums of an uninteresting routine, or it can happen to you when you’re standing in the Mongolian grasslands during the Festival of Naadam. Creative block doesn’t discriminate, so you need to have an arsenal of tools at hand to fend it off when it decides to make you its next victim.

If you’ve ever stood in one place with your camera hanging around your neck and just could not for the life of you find a photo anywhere in your environment, you’re probably suffering from creative block on at least some level. The key to beating it is to start fighting it as soon as you recognize it, because otherwise it can keep you in empty memory cards for weeks. Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do. If you use these tips and exercises, you’ll not only banish creative block, you may also come up with some really great photos that you probably would never have thought of if you hadn’t had a bout of creative block. Take that, ugly beast.
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Five Surprising Locations for Photography

Five Surprising Locations for Photography

You can take a great photo anywhere. No, really. Field, junk yard, basement or parking lot–every place has a photo hidden in it somewhere. Your job as a photographer is to look at each new location as you would see it through your viewfinder. When you’re in that basement, find the beautiful, broken down chair sitting in a dusty sunbeam. Zoom in on a length of twisted wire in that overgrown field or record the coming and going of feet in that parking lot.

Stuck for ideas? Here are a five surprising locations for your photo sessions. View these places with an eye for the unusual and try shooting from different angles, isolating backgrounds and zooming in on the interesting features that most people overlook.
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5 Photography Clichés

5 Photography Clichés

Let me start by saying something I think we can all agree with. Clichés are victims of their own success. Something only becomes a cliché because it looks good and people like it. The only problem is that the theme gets overdone, and it loses its originality. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You should always go out and take whatever looks good, regardless of its originality. I am merely pointing out these clichés so none of us gets a big head. So many things have been done in photography that I often struggle to create anything “original” anymore. I think a lot of professional photographers would agree.
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