Do never miss an opportunity
A grey, cloudy sky, or even worse, rain, usually keep the photographer home. Photography is all about light, and without light... Well, there is an exception! A white sky is a great opportunity for B&W photography.
Furthermore, B&W long exposure creates very dramatic photos. You can achieve them with a tripod and one or two ND filter (ND10, ND10+ND3, ND10+ND6)
If you've never heard of it, this is gonna be a major change in the way you use your camera : back button focus! There is a setting in your camera that allows you to focus with your right thumb. Your thumb focus, your index finger take the shoot. This is a new world opening to you! Combined with AI Servo, this is extremely powerfull. No comparison possible with the traditionnal half way shutter button.
About the retouching
Some people proudly say they never retouch their photos. Let's be clear : not retouching a photography is being ignorant. Is shooting only in full auto being a photographer? No! Is removing a dust a cheat? No!
A photographer makes choices. Choosing the aperture changes the DOF, it s the first choice you make! Retouching is logical. A RAW file is on purpose very flat and need to be developped by the photographer. All the great photographers have always retouched their pictures, sometimes spending days on developpement.
Hand held bracketting
In some conditions, the dynamic range is too wide for a camera. Typically, on a sunny day, with white clouds and strong shadows. No camera can render it in one picture. You'll have usually the sky sacrified with completely white clouds.
There is an easy solution. Go in your menu to activate the bracketting (-1;0;+1), breathe, let your finger on the button to shoot the 3 shots in a row. In lightroom, you then go to photomerge, HDR, and click on "align" and voila, no need of a tripod, an a great picture with beautifull clouds and shadows.
Be carefull if you try that on a not so very bright day, the under expose photo may need ISO increase to avoid a too slow shuttter speed for hand held photo.
Don't let your pictures on your computer!
There is something a little sad in letting your pictures only on your computer or your website. Prints are great too! There are several ideas like boxes (sorted by year, by destination..), books, you can order online (less expensive than in the past), photowalls (in the toilets, the living room...) Let in the comments your ideas!
Before shooting, just take a breath and ask yourself these questions :
Do I have a foreground, middleground, background?
And do I have leading lines to connect them?
If the answer is no, your picture will miss depth, try to correct it before shooting.
The proverb says "No matter how good an image is, it will be better at sunset". And it's right. The warm light of the golden hour gives an incredible atmosphere to your photos.
The golden hour occurs right after sunrise an just before sunset.
Night photography does not exist. Night photos are taken at the end of the blue hour, except for the milky way and star trails. The reason is simple, you don't want a black sky, but a dark blue one. However, there is still a great amount of light during the blue hour, and you may need to use an ND filter to increase the time of exposure to add car light trails. Don't forget to look the moon phase and also light pollution in your area if you wanna shoot the milky way.
Sunrise / Sunset
It's obvious but it has to be said, the sunrise occurs at the opposite of the sunset. So if the sun is not where you expected it to be at dusk, you can wake up early the day after and shoot the sunrise. Do not forget to use a sun tracking app to plan your shots.
Black and white, not grey and grey!
A good B&W is contrasty. You need very dark shadows nearly 100% black, and very light whites nearly 100% white. And some grey between. But avoid the flat grey boring picture!
Fill the frame!
Your composition is important. You really need to fill the frame. That's the only unbreakable rule. Get rid of what you don't want to be on the photo. You can walk closer, zoom in, or crop in post prod. Sometimes, you can shoot wider on purpose because you know you'll crop later in editing (especially for panoramas) Cropping helps to eliminate some empty space or put the subject on a leading line (rule of thirds)
Add some originality
Taking different kind of pictures will make your trip album more interesting. Include people in your landscapes, find a frame in the frame, shoot reflections... You can shoot a monument's reflection in a puddle of water, or include the reflection in the frame, you can shoot through fences and use them as natural frames, you have to look for rooftops, you can shoot at ground level... Look for patterns, play with depth of field, shoot details...
Clean the motha$#*% sensor!
This is kind of boring but dust loves your sensor. Before leaving for a trip, you must assure that the sensor is clean, otherwise you could have to spend days to clean hundreds of pictures once back home. To check your sensor shoot the sky at f/22 and zoom on the camera screen to look for spots. If dirty, clean it or have it cleaned in a photo center because it may be invisible at f/2.8 but it will appear on long exposure, night shots, pannings...
Canon cameras have 3 wonderfull options : C1, C2, C3. These three buttons allow to save three diffrent configurations. This will help you to make photos you could never have done without. For example, if I'm shooting a landscape and something is coming on the road and I want to shoot it, I just have to select C3 and in less than a second the camera is ready!
I personnaly use C1 for landscape, and my camera is on C1 most of the time (AV Mode, F/8, AI SERVO yes, even for landscapes but don't forget I use the thumb focusing, 100 ISO, RAW, central focus point)
I use C2 for portraits (AV Mode, f 1.4, 100 ISO, AI SERVO, RAW, central focus point...) Don t forget to save this setting while using a fast lens f1.4 or f1.2... When you'll use a f2,8 lens it will set at f2.8 and when you'll use a f1.4 lens it will be at f1.4.
I use C3 for paning. It's the last option, I don't even need to look at the camera to select it. (Tv Mode, 1/25th of a second, 100 ISO, RAW, AI SERVO, focus zone)
There is an interesting option called "Split Toning" in lightroom. Try this : add a warm tint (orange, yellow, red) to your highlights and a cold tint (blue, green) to your shadows. Don't push the hue to high, it gives great results.
Dodge and Burn
It took me a lot of time to use D&B. I didn't see the meaning. It's now crystal clear. When you use D&B, you "unflatten" your photos. You add "drama". My technique is basic : in lightroom, I use the radial filter, increase the exposition and invert it. I use 3 or 4 filters by picture. (ctrl+ALT+clic to copy a radial filter)
Plan your trip
Before leaving for a trip, I strongly encourage you to do some research on Google, 500px, Flickr... to look for ideas. It's very usefull to plan in advance, especially when you don't stay more than a few days. Once your selection is done, print a google map of your destination and mark the places you want to shoot. Dependind on where you stay, look how to reach every place (metro, bus, by foot...)
When you book a hotel, aways ask the highest floor possible. I remember in Malta, I paid for a room upgrade because my wife didn't like the first room. The picture I make from the upgraded room is my best seller and completely paid the upgrade.
Sell your photos
Selling pictures probably won't make you rich in a day, but on the long run, you can make serious money. There are a few rules to respect. First, be very selective. Second, don't retouh too much, be subtle, otherwise it will be refused. Third, use relevant keywords, it's key. And.... that's it, upload your photos to micro stock websites, you're making money from your hobby.
Silky water and stretchy clouds
Long exposure brings your photography to the next level. Water and clouds are wonderfull allies of the photographer. Of course you need a tripod, or a Gorillapod and an ND filter (see the Gear section)
Once your setup is ready, take your penbrush and take away those 2 or 3 tiny dusts on your lens glass. You'll save some time retouching.
Add light trails
At night, light trails (from cars, boats, trains, bicycles, even planes...) can hugely improve your photos. Shoot them, and add them to your photo with photoshop (blending mode Lighten)
Clic, clic, clic clic, clic...
When shooting landscapes during the blue hour, it's the time when the city lights are switched on. You need to shoot on a tripod several pictures and then blend them together on lightroom or photoshop. Be sure that you have all that you need before leaving. I mean the lights are really bright, and the shadows really dark. A simple -1IL, 0, +1 IL won't be enough. You need a -2IL,0,+2IL to be sure to recover the shinest highlights.
Amateurs come back from photo trips with thousands of pictures. Pros with less than 10 pictures! You have to be selective. One subject, one picture. It's far better to have 10 excellent photos than 50 mediocre. There is a cool function in Lightroom to help you choose between several photos, just select them and press N.
When shooting, you don't want to think of protecting your gear from robbers. Some automatism should help you. When moving, close your bag with clips and use the rain cover, especially in the subway or crowded places. When shotting, you can suspend your bag to your tripod instead of letting it on a bench, and when sat at a restaurant you should place the bag strap under the chair leg. If there is no safe in your room, you can buy a portable safe from pacsafe.What you want is to avoid opportunist thiefs
You said sharp?
On tripod shoots, you can't rely on the autofocus mode. Here is the good method, used by only a happy few. Once on the tripod, frame your shoot and switch to manual focus on your lens. Switch to Live view, and zoom x10. Move the view to the corner of the image with the joystick (not the center!) and manuel focus on a corner. Switch off the live view and shoot. This is will produce the sharpest possible shots. Of course, lens quality also matters.
Know your gear
You may wanna buy a long focal before going to a safari (have a look at the Gear Section) but you for sure don't wanna go for a trip with a brand new camera. You need time to master a new camera.
JPG, what's that?
RAW is the only file you want your DSLR to create. When I was in St Petersburg, Russia, I don't know why but my camera was set on jpg in manual mode. I shot 3 days like that (only the blue hour in M mode, I was in RAW in Av mode) When I realized my mistake, it was the last day before my departure. I just ran from Saint Isaac Cathedral, to the Ermitage, to the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood between the beginning and the end of the blue hour. It's a long distance and I'll never ever again forget to check I'm in RAW! Why that? Well, try to shoot a sunset in JPG and in RAW and retouch the pictures. The JPG, you can't do a lot on it, whereas the RAW allow you to do a lot more retouching, especially in highlights and shadows.
White balance, who cares?
Not me! I've never shot with another setting than auto WB. I shoot RAW, so I change the white balance in Lightroom. No needs to do it on a RAW file.
Master metering to get perfectly exposed images in every situation
I just found this funny title in an article I read on the web. This is incredible the amount of shit you can read on internet. The only metering you need is Evaluative. Why would you need another metering? The metering calculates the exposure. Of course, you check the histogram for every picture taken. If for any reason the exposure is not good, you just under/over expose with your thumb on the rear wheel. If for example you shoot a backlight portrait, you don't need to change the metering, you need a fill in flash (and if you don't have one you need bracketting otherwise you'll burn the sky)
Panoramas are awesome! Just respect some simple rules when shooting a pano. First, in Av mode, calculate the average exposition. If the luminosity changes from one side to the other, you have to choose a correct exposition (or do bracketting if no average value works)
Then, switch to manual, because you want to keep the same settings for all the pictures. When shooting, imagine that the camera body must not move. I mean don't turn your head from left to right with the camera in front of your face. Just imagine the camera is on a tripod and it can't do any moves except a rotation on itself. You don't actually need a tripod, just rotate the camera without other movements.
In Lightroom, go to Photomerge, Panorama and you'll have a single RAW file of your pano. Isn't it wonderfull?
There is one thing that I just can't stand. I have to control myself not to insult these people... The lens hood attached in reverse. Oh my God how people look stupid!!! If you can reverse the lens hood, it's to transport it easily in your bag. But when the lens is not in the bag, the lens hood has to be put in the right position! It prevents flare and it protect the glass. If you keep it reversed, (did I mention you look like a fool?) it impedes you to use the focus or zoom ring!
I'm not talking about shooting those who invert the lens hood :)
I'm talking about including natives in your photos. It's not easy to take pictures of people, especially if you're shy. In some places, it can be quite dangerous because you don't know how people react. If you don't want interaction, use a tele, like the Canon 100-400mm L IS You'll be able to stay far away, invisible. But if you wanna make an effort, most of the time you just have to smile for the permission. Some people will ask you money. It's your choice... I refuse 90% of the time to pay, but it can happen sometimes.
Rules or not?
Creativity and respect of rules doesn't seem to work together. But I would suggest if you're a rookie to respect the rule of third. Put your horizon on the lower third if you have a nice sky or the upper third if you prefer to emphasize the foreground. And put the subject at an intersection.
If you wanna break the rules, do it on purpose. For example, you can put the horizon at the complete bottom of the picture, or put the subject in the center. If it's done on purpose for creative intentions, it's OK.
Some photographers would never take a picture without a tripod, locking the mirror, blocking light from the viewfinder etc....
Tests have been done. Mirror locking is usefull in a very specific situation : when shooting (of course on a tripod) around 1/8 to 1/15 of a second with extreme focal lenght (>400mm) Otherwise, it's just completely useless. Personnaly, I never took a picture with the mirror locked (except for tests)
Tripod & stabilization
When shooting with a stabilized lens, don't forget to turn off the IS if you're on a tripod. The micro shakes create blur, it's counter productive (and written on the notice)
No memory card, no photo
One mistake every body has done at least once is to shoot without a memory card in the camera. The setting to prevent this is called "Release Shutter without Card". Put it OFF.
It's painless if you shoot your dog in the backyard but it can be a huge desillusion if you're on a trip to the Galapagos or on a Kenyan safari.
I've got the powa
Having a second battery is critical. Sometimes you forget to charge the first one, or you leave home with a battery with half power and it suddenly discharge. You need a second battery.
It has to be said once and for all, light leaking is like the Yeti, it''s a urban legend. If your camera has light leaks, sell it or send it to repair, cause nowadays camera just don't have light leaks at all.
Gradual Neutral Dentisty Filters
GND filters purpose is to darken a part of the image (usually the sky, but you can invert them). They have soft or hard edges. In my opinion they are tools of the past.
They have 2 major issues:
- they are straight : if there is a tree or a mountain on the horizon, it will be darken by the filter, which will look strange. Except the ocean, nothing is flat.
- It's an additionnal glass between the lens and the subject with all the related problems : dust, flare, colour cast...
With digital photography, the GND are totally useless and I strongly recommend not to use them and instead learn digital blending.
ND filters on the opposite are extremely usefull, I talk about them on the Gear section.
Car Light Trails
When shooting cityscapes, you usually have one base exposure, one overexposure to recover the shadows, and one or 2 underexposures to recover the highlights.
When you want to add car light trails, you take additional shots. Knowing that you're gonna use these shots only for light trails, you can close the aperture to f/22 to increase the time of exposure and have more cars. It's particularly usefull if you don't have your ND filters with you.
To blend the light trails in photoshop, you just need to put them above your base layer, select them all and choose the Lighten blending mode, then you group them and mask on the group the part of the photo without light trails. If you want to increase the effect, duplicate the group, move slightly the light trails, and transform a little bit the selection to avoid patterns. Finally, adjust the Levels on the group to make the light trails brighter.
It's hard to obtain a wow effect for cityscapes because there is just a bunch of excellent photographers out there publishing every day extraordinary photos.
Once on site, you can find it difficult to take the good shot. You planned everything, but you're disappointed by what you see on your camera. Sometimes, the sky is perfect, but the city lights are not yet switched on, and when they are, it's too late for the sky.
If you want to do wow cityscapes, here is the secret : blend the golden and the blue hour together! You'll have everything : beautifull sky, city lights, car light trails...
You need a tripod, a remote or shutter release cable, and patience. Start shooting when you like what you see, and don't move the tripod until the end of the blue hour. You may have to wait one hour for the entire shooting.
On Lightroom, select the photo with the best sky, and the photo with city lights and do your basic editing.
On photoshop, you just need to align the 2 layers, and blend the blue hour (darkest image) on the golden hour shot in Lighten blending mode. This is as simple!
If you want more control, learn how to use luminosity masks, but it's for advanced photographers.