Travel with your heart, not just your camera.

Hot air ballon, Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air balloon ride over Love Valley in Cappadocia, Turkey

The above photo was taken on an amazing hot air balloon experience in Cappadocia, Turkey, thanks to Experta and The Gallipoli Artist. It captures perfectly what my heart was feeling … The appreciation of wide open spaces, the beauty of autumn in Love Valley and yet a few other balloons off in the distance to remind me that I was not alone.

Your camera is an object.
It is devoid of feelings.
It only works when connected to a human hand, which is connected to a human brain and human heart.
It is not the camera that takes amazing photos, it is the person behind the camera.
It is the person behind the camera whose eyes you are seeing through.
It is not just the emotions of the subject that you see, you are feeling the emotions of the photographer and how they saw the subject. You are connected to the photographer’s heart.

When you are traveling the world, it is exciting to capture everything with your camera. It’s wonderful to be able to share what you see with your friends, family and social media followers. Everyone loves photos and stories of far away places.

When you travel though, I urge you to go first with your heart and second with your camera.

When I travel, I go first with my heart.
I travel for the love of other cultures and for the open mindedness it has instilled in me. I travel to understand other people, their struggles, their way of life and their joys. I travel with my heart because no matter where I go, I still care about people, about humans.

I don’t travel to take amazing photographs, those are simply the byproduct of what my heart feels and my eyes see while I am there. I travel to have experiences that change my life, and hopefully change others’ lives for the better.

There are days when I am on the road that I leave my camera behind. It is so easy to get caught up in taking photos of all of the new and amazing things that you see everywhere in a new city or country. It is normal for a photographer to want to document them because that is what we do. But, sometimes I make a decided effort to leave my camera behind so that I am fully present in the moment and spend time learning, feeling and seeing the country, the people and the history without trying to ‘capture’ it.

If you are in a country for seven days and you spend all of your time wrapped up in taking photos so that you can ‘remember’ it, what is it that you are remembering? Simply the photos that you took. Instead, what if you took time to enjoy the country you are visiting and let the photos help remind you of the amazing people you met and things you did instead of missing out on the real country just to capture the outer layer.

If you just can’t bear to leave your camera behind, here are a few tips on how to travel with your heart, not just your camera, but still have your camera in hand.

1. If you are photographing people in another country, remember that YOU are the invader of their privacy. It is not your right to take their photo. If you approach people with your heart, with a true interest in them, they will be more relaxed and more willing to let you photograph them. If you stick a camera in their face without even saying hello, you are invading their space and intimidating them.

2. Get to know the people who you are photographing so that you don’t just have photos of random people, you have stories and experiences to share.

3. If you are traveling with a tour guide, I know this is hard, but try listening to what the guide has to say about his / her country and the location you are at rather than snapping away. Once you hear the history and stories behind the location you will look deeper for photos with meaning rather than snap shots of ‘interesting things’. You will photograph from the heart because you will understand the history, the struggles, the achievements of the place you are standing in. Listen and learn, then photograph to tell a story, not just to have photos.

4. Take days (or hours) off from photography. Choose to do something of interest and enjoy it fully without your camera. Maybe this is going for dinner in the evenings. Do you really NEED a picture of every meal? Will you do anything with the photo of that restaurant? Do you know how to properly take night photos so they are not blurry? Don’t take your camera with you because you feel you have to. Leave it behind you so can be present. It will give your brain (and neck) a break and you’ll be more refreshed for shooting the next day.

Your camera is an extension of your heart. You have the power to capture both your emotions and the emotions of your subject in one single moment in time. Make the most of it. Shoot from your heart.

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Let’s Focus

I often get the question from photographers ‘Why are my photos out of focus?’ Which leads to … ‘Is there something wrong with my camera?’

I tell people, it is all about balance.

So, how do you find this elusive balance?

More often than not, the photos aren’t out of focus, so much as they are blurry from movement (either of the object or camera shake from the movement of your hands while you take the photo). There is a difference between a focusing problem and a motion blur problem, but they can look very similar! Out of focus means that you (or the camera) did not focus on a specific spot. Sometimes you can actually find that the camera chose to focus on a different spot than you would have liked it to. There are several factors that play into this:

If you are using autofocus, your camera usually focuses on either the brightest object in the frame, or the closest object in the frame. There are ways to override this, but each camera is different. Here are a few of the options you might want to consider and look into in your manual.

1. Can you change the focus point of your camera? There may be options to focus on the centre, the entire scene or to choose a specific area to focus on. What is your camera currently set to focus on and how do you change it?

2. On my camera, I use automatic / centre focusing. I put my centre point on the part of the picture that I want in focus, hold my shutter release half way to lock focus and then reframe my photo before pressing the shutter release all the way. Not all cameras allow you to do this, but many do.

3. Can you choose to shoot on manual focus and trust your eyes to tell you when the subject of your photo is in focus? This is the tried and true way, but it does count on you having good eyesight and your subject being stationary. It does not work as well with moving objects.

4. Want to make sure that your entire photo (or as close as possible) is in focus? Try shooting with an aperature of F16 – F32. This gives the greatest depth of field. If you focus on something mid-distance from the camera, most of what is closer to the camera and further away should also be in focus. Of course, there are exceptions to this, such as if something is extremely close to the lens, it may still not be fully in focus. But, this is a trick that can help you in a lot of situations.

5. Want to make sure that only one part of your photo is in focus? Try shooting with F2.8 – F5.6. Focus on the subject of your photo and then reframe to line it up the way you’d like. Your subject will be in sharp focus, but you’ll see that everything else quickly becomes out of focus. Tried this but it looks like nothing is in focus? Try once more and focus manually on your subject. If it still doesn’t work, change your aperature from F4 to F5.6 or F2.8 to F4. Don’t forget to adjust your shutter speed or iso to compensate so that you still get a properly lit photo.

6. If you are seeing ‘ghosting’ in your photos where the image looks like it has a bit of a shadow, this is likely due to either the movement of your hands when you are taking the photo, or the movement of the object itself. This happens when your shutter speed is too slow. Most people can hand hold their camera at about 1/60th of a second, depending on the length and weight of the lens they are using. When I use my 70 – 200 lens, I can only hand-hold at 1/200th of a second. If you are getting ghosting, you need to increase the shutter speed. For example, if you are at 1/10th, change it to 1/125th. This will also mean you will have to adjust your iso and / or aperture accordingly to still get the proper lighting for your shot. Or, keep the 1/10th of a second, but put your camera on a tripod to reduce camera shake. This will only help if the ghosting was caused by your own movement. If the object is blowing in the wind, you will still see movement of the object at 1/10th of a second.

Always use protection

Photo tip: Always use protection!

Protect your lens folks!
Filters are expensive, but they are part of the whole kit and caboodle and I’m a strong believer that they are worth their price ($40-$100 per lens depending on the brand you buy).

Filters protect your lens from dust, scratches, rain and the elements in general on a daily basis. Lose your lens cap? At least you have a filter on so that your lens isn’t taking all of this daily abuse.

And, when you have an incident like I did where you drop your lens, face down on some rocks on the banks of Lake Titicaca, Peru … it might just save your sanity!

There it was, my 5D MK II, face down on the rocky beach …

Pretty much everyone in the group turned to look, and I’m pretty sure my face was white.

I picked it up off the ground and looked at the damage.

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After letting Clever (our local leader) know that he could continue explaining to the group, I half paid attention and half studied the damage. The entire filter was smashed. The question was, did the smashed glass from the filter hit the lens? A filter is $60-$100 to replace. The lens is about $1000 to replace.

I slowly and tentatively unscrewed the filter from the lens. I could hear the glass shifting and starting to come loose. I had no idea what I was going to find behind that filter. Would my lens be equally as shattered? Finally, when the filter was off, I could see the lens. It had not broken, which was a good start, but with the shards of glass and dust all over it, I couldn’t really see how much damage there was.

A little in shock, I decided to just ignore the damage for the time being, pay attention to the day’s plans and deal with it later.

When I reached my home stay (about an hour later), I took a closer look. I carefully used my blower & lens pen brush to dust the remaining glass off the lens and held it up in the sun light. Miraculously, the filter had sustained all of the damage and the lens came out perfectly fine. As far as I can tell, not even a scratch. Guess it was my lucky day!

Wake up early and see the sunrise!

Photo tip: Wake up early & see the sunrise!

As hard as it was to get up before sunrise while I was in the Dominican Republic on hire for a Destination Wedding, I am so very glad I did.

Early morning sun is soft, beautiful, yet dramatic. It is quiet, peaceful and very few people are around for sunrise, so you have your location all to yourself and your camera! It is a very relaxing and mindful way to practice your photography skills and creativity.

When you meter for your photo, take a reading off of your subject or the ground not off the sun. If you point toward the sun your camera will be fooled and your photo will not turn out as you had imagined. If you take a meter reading off your subject and put the sunrise in the photo you’ll have better luck in getting your subject exposed properly, but the sky / sun may still be over exposed in the background.

A couple of tips to get your subject and sky closer to the same level of brightness to bring out the best in your photographs …

Wait until the sun is behind clouds to make it more diffused and less contrasty.

Use a little bit of fill flash (if you know how) to brighten your subjects just slightly so that the sun in the background isn’t over exposed and blown out in your photo.

Choose the setting you think is correct, then bracket your exposure both over and under exposed and compare the difference on your computer when you get home. Then, next time you shoot at sunrise you’ll know better what to expect!

Dominican Republic Sunrise

Dominican Republic Sunrise

Ask Permission

Photo tip: Ask Permission.

Imagine how you would feel if you were walking down the street of your home town and out of the corner of your eye you saw someone with a 70-200 mm lens pointed right at you. You’d probably wonder why they wanted a photo of you, what would it be used for and where would it end up? You might even try to ‘hide’ by putting your hand up to scratch your face, or getting off the street at the next corner and taking an alternate route. Or, you may approach the person and ask them what they are photographing. Summed up, this is how most people feel regardless of their nationality.

Just because you are in someone else’s country doesn’t mean that taking photos is ok. Yes, as traveler’s and photographers we want to capture things around us. But, it is our duty to make sure that we understand the customs, beliefs and rules of the places we are traveling to.

In most countries, photographing government officials is taboo, if not flat out illegal. Unless of course they are on display for that purpose at a landmark or tourist attraction.

In some countries, such as Peru, many people believe that the camera captures your soul, so they do not want to be photographed at all. It is important to be aware of this and respectful.

Want to photograph someone? Why not ask them if they mind? It only takes a moment and it could lead to a really interesting conversation!

Don’t know how to speak the language? Learn a few basic phrases and watch for body language to tell you whether the person understands and is giving their permission.

If all else fails, use your own body language. Smiling and pointing at a person and then back at your camera is universally understandable … as is the shake of the head side to side for no, or the nod of the head up and down for yes.

Look for colour and patterns

Photo tip: Look for colour or patterns!

When you are traveling, no matter where it may be – close to home or far away, take time to look around for colour and patterns! Think about Bermuda and their colourful architecture … The beach with it’s powerful waves and lines in the sand, fishing villages all around the world, architecture new or old (think Havana, Cuba or Dubai!)

Wherever you are traveling, strong lines, beautiful light and bright colours can be captured separately or together for outstanding images for your portfolio.

Beach – Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos Islands
Orange Rocks – Prince Edward Island, Canada
Colorful Fishing Village – St. Pierre & Miquelon, France
Yellow flowers – New Orleans, Louisana, USA
Weaving – Ccaccaccollo, Peru

Experience It!

Photo Tip: Experience it!

As tourists, we often tend to get a little snap-happy when we visit a new location. We try to capture everything that surrounds us, and are often under time constraints to do so. Maybe our tour bus has only stopped for an hour long visit in a city, but if you are lucky, you have an afternoon free to explore at your leisure.

Before you start taking pictures, start with a deep breath. Look around and take a moment to enjoy your surroundings. Often once we raise our camera to our eye we change modes and want to create beautiful photographs. I challenge you to make sure you take time to also enjoy the experience of the city. It is through living, feeling, connecting and doing hands on activities with locals that you truly get a feel for the community or city you are visiting. When you feel the connection, then it is time to raise your camera and capture that feeling. If you can wait … these photos will be far more meaningful to you then the 360 degree spin you did to capture everything without experiencing any of it.

Temperature Control

Temperature Control

Have you ever stepped out of your hotel on to the streets of a humid destination, lifted your camera up to take photos of the activity on the street and been met by a cloudy, foggy lens? You rapidly try to wipe the fog off the lens, but to no avail, it returns almost instantly. So much for that shot of the monks walking down the street … all I see now is their backs about a block away. This happened to me several times in Myanmar this summer.

Although there is no instant fix once your lens has fogged, there are things you can do preventatively!

Keep your gear at a study temperature. This is very difficult when you are going from hot and humid weather to the beautiful air conditioning in the hotel. But, remember your camera doesn’t have feelings. It doesn’t need to cool off like we do!
Keep your backpack / camera gear stored in the shade when possible when you are outside.

Carry an umbrella to keep the hot sun off both you and your camera gear.

Try to minimize how often you go from the hot sun to air conditioned locations.

Try to keep the air conditioning to temperate, not as cold as you want to be after 40 degree heat.

Keep your camera gear in a bag or backpack, possibly in a closet out of the direct stream of cold air

Keep your camera gear in the bathroom if it is not too damp, with the door closed to keep the air conditioning out (I did this a lot in South East Asia)

Give your gear time to acclimatize. If you cannot avoid going from cool air conditioning to blazing hot sun, make sure you plan sufficient time for your camera to adjust to the new temperature. When you leave the cold air your lens (and mirror inside the camera) will almost automatically fog, just like your spectacles do! Because there is so much glass in a lens and they can be very thick, it takes time for all of the layers of glass to warm up and the fog to go away. If you want to be able to shoot clearly at 8:30am, you should consider warming your gear up half an hour to an hour prior.

Pack silica gels or other absorbent materials. Keep your silica gel packs from that new leather jacket, your new shoes or any other products that might be prone to moisture. Stick the little packs in around your camera gear to help absorb moisture whenever you are in a humid climate.