Your travel photography questions answered

March 10, 2012 | By

A photo I took during a 2011 trip to Stonehenge

I’m known among my family and friends as the official “historian” of any get together, as they good-naturedly groan when I inevitably pull out my camera.  I don’t pretend to be a great photographer, but I do love taking pictures of the people I love…  especially while traveling!!  I come home from vacations with an expanding waistline and a full memory card – my two signs that I’ve had a great time.

While I certainly couldn’t instruct you on how to take a beautiful travel photograph, I’ll let Today.com’s travel team provide a few tips that I found really helpful.Q: I have a new Canon T3 and want to shoot some waterfalls. Any setting suggestions? — Dan Smith

A: Waterfalls can make amazing photo subjects. Here are a few tips you can use when photographing them.

On bright, sunny days use a fast shutter speed, 1/250th second and greater, which will freeze the action of the spray in mid-air. The picture will communicate the power of the water as it cascades over the ledge and splashes onto the rocks below. On cloudy days or when the light is low, use slow shutter speeds at 1/8th second and slower. At these slow shutter speeds, the flow of water will blur and the waterfall will take on an ethereal quality like a beautiful bridal veil as it flows through the frame. Remember, when using slow shutter speeds it is important that you use a tripod and a cable release or the self timer on the camera. Doing so takes the shake out of the camera and allows you to make razor-sharp images.

A nice thing about photographing waterfalls, like other landscape features, is that they are not going to run or fly away. I encourage you to experiment and shoot the scene from various angles and perspectives and see what you like best. Your results might surprise you.

Q: What settings do you use when part of a scene is bright and the other part is in the shadows? — Evelyn Conley

A: A scene with both bright sunlight and dark shadows is a challenge to expose correctly. In these cases, using fill flash is a great tool because the flash will fill in the shadows and bring them closer to the same exposure as the brighter areas in the scene. As “smart” as digital cameras are these days, they simply cannot capture details in scenes that contain both bright highlights and deep shadows and find a perfect exposure.

When flash is not an option because the subject is too far away or flash is inappropriate, it gets down to deciding what you, the photographer, thinks is most important.

If you want to keep detail in the shadows because what is in those shadows is important to the picture, then I would select the metering mode on your camera that takes meter readings from all parts of the frame and then averages all those values together for what the camera suggests is the best exposure. If you are shooting a Nikon camera this metering mode is called “matrix” metering. If you are shooting Canon, it is called “evaluative” metering.

If the subject is not moving and you have the time, shoot several different exposures both underexposing and overexposing, a technique called “bracketing,” then once you download the images on your computer, select the one you like best.

Q: What is the best angle of sunlight to use? What time of day is best to photograph in? — Mariecor Ruediger

A: If nature or travel photographers had their perfect day of light, you would have sunlight early and late in the day when the light has a golden glow, then you would have bright overcast in the middle of the day, which eliminates harsh midday shadows and creates nice soft portrait light.

There is no correct answer to what is the best angle of sunlight to use because most any angle of light can be made interesting depending on what you are trying to say in your image. But regardless of angle, here’s a good rule of thumb on a sunny day: Shoot early and late in the day when the sun is lower in the sky.

When the sun is nearer the horizon the light has to pass through more atmosphere and has more warmth and color than it does during the middle of the day. Photographers sometimes call this the “golden hour.” Next time you are outside, pay special attention to the color of the light and how it changes throughout the day.

Q: I would love to have some details on how best to photograph stars, night scenery and even fireflies, like aperture, settings, shutter speeds, etc. — Michelle Maynard

A: Photographing at night takes a lot of practice, experimentation and caffeine! But for those that work it out, they are seldom disappointed.

Here are several steps that will give you a very basic place to start for photographing stars at night, moonlit landscapes, fireflies in a meadow, etc., but you must experiment to fine tune your technique. Understand there are many variables to night photography we can’t go into here, but a quick Internet search will provide you with many more details from photographers who specialize in that area.

1. Use a sturdy tripod because you will be making long exposures.
2. Attach a cable release to the camera so you can trigger it without putting your hand on the camera which would cause vibration and a blurry image.
3. Select a wide-angle lens, set it on its widest aperture and focus the lens on infinity.
4. Place your camera on its “Bulb” setting which allows you to be in control of how long the shutter stays open when you are taking the picture.
5. Finally, compose the scene, then use the cable release to trigger the shutter.

I would start by setting your camera at ISO 800 and try a 30-second exposure, then a 45-second exposure, then a minute exposure and so on. Experiment with different ISOs and exposures.

It helps to take notes after you download the images to see what works best for you with the camera and lenses you have. It can be tedious at first, but once you have it figured out, it is just like following a recipe. Generally, at shutter speeds up to about 45 seconds, the stars will be points of light. After 45 seconds, they will start to become “star trails,” appearing as streaks across the sky. If you center your frame on the North Star, it will remain a point of light and all the other stars will circle around it with longer exposures.