Road trips have been hailed as one of the greatest pastimes ever, and something that everyone should do at least once in their lifetime. It is a great way to experience a lot in a short span of time, and as a photographer, there will be many opportunities and moments awaiting your perspective. Sometimes preserving your creative spin in the midst of all the new discoveries, can become sensory overload and feel overwhelming.
Here are three tips that can help you make better photographs on your journey and maximize your road trip.
1. Plan, plan … plan?
Most successful photo sessions involve a level of planning, this is no different for road trips. The plan does not have to be detailed, it can start out with some basics, such as final destination and must-see places/events, then you determine what should happen daily. Research your routes, note interesting things along the way, and make a priority list. Keep in mind that when traveling you are subject to the unforeseen, such as inclement weather, or places inaccessible for one reason or another, so be ready to switch to Plan B.
As a light chaser, planning should include knowing when the most flattering light will hit your must-see locations or subjects (e.g. sunrise or sunset), and getting there on time. Thankfully there are now many smartphone apps that will help you plan for the golden hours, work out directions, as well as drive times (and distance) between destinations.
The last part of planning is building flexibility into your days. Sometimes even the best laid plans end up with hiccups and delays, and you still need to make the most of it. The main objective of any road trip is to have fun, so build in a little flexibility, and who knows, you could find something worth exploring, or maybe you will be forced to get creative when you least expect it.
2. Gearing up
So with your destination(s) planned, it’s time to figure out what gear you need. The last thing you want to do is lug around everything you own, in fact, quite the opposite – you will want to travel light. This is why knowing your destination is key to packing. Will you be driving through amazing scenery? If yes, then you may want to pack a wide-angle lens. If wildlife is your focus, you may decide on a telephoto zoom, which is also great for capturing portraits of people in their natural environment, without being too obtrusive.
Note: Good advice, when it comes to portraits, asking permission is a nice approach.
It all depends on what your end game is, and what lens (or two) you will be using the most. There will always be regrets over what you left behind, such as that one photo that would have been awesome if you had packed a fish-eye or macro lens – but think about the extra weight, and whether of not it’s justified for the duration of the trip.
If you really want to travel light, a mid-range zoom is a great compromise and a good broad spectrum lens to have during your journey, so research your surroundings and decide if this could work for you. A tripod is a safe bet if you plan to do any night photography, but use the same rule and take it only if you need it.
3. Road trip story
When you shoot with a story in mind, it can make your photos take on a life of their own. Are you documenting something specific along the way, such as small towns or diners, breath-taking landscapes, or the road itself?
There are many different ways to tell a story, and your objective and style will dictate the way you tell yours. If your destination includes places that are prone to lots of tourists – decide how this fits into your vision. Do you make them a part of the photo (i.e. use their presence for a sense of scale) or would you prefer the location desolate (which probably means rising early to beat the rush). What story are you trying to tell?
Road trips are fun, and are a great way to make memories with hundreds of photo opportunities. Planning goes a long way, and will help you determine which gear to travel with, and what photos will make up your story line. So whether you are journeying to a National Park or just venturing out to a new place – a journey that spans two weeks or just two hours – know before you go, have lots of fun, and make awesome photo memories.
What other important tips would you add for fellow photography road trippers?
As you learn more about using your camera, and start taking beautiful pictures, you might also want a way to share them with the rest of the world. There are many social networking platforms that are ideal for this sort of thing like: Instagram, Flickr, Google Photos, Tumblr, and Facebook, along with hundreds more.
However, one of the most popular, and effective ways, to share your pictures is a simple, humble, tried-and-true blog. Even though blogs are sort of like grandpas in our modern internet age, there’s a reason they have stuck around for more than two decades: they’re intuitive, easy to set up, and they allow you to have full control over your content. Many photographers enjoy using blogs because of their flexibility and customizability, and if you want to spent a bit of money for a dedicated blog platform like Squarespace, or a self-hosted WordPress installation, you can get even more creative.
If you are thinking about pursuing this route there there are some things you need to consider before setting up your own photo blog.
There are many sites that let you build photo blogs, several of which are free.
Know why you are doing a blog
This first point seems kind of obvious, but a lot of photographers find their blogs stalling out, and gathering dust after a few months, because they did not define their purpose for doing the blog when they first began. Many people start blogs because they just want to share random pictures, but if you want a viable long-term blogging solution, you’re going to need something more.
Are you starting a photo blog to get your name out there, and generate sales leads (potential customers)? Do you want to make a mark in your community? Do you want to simply post photos you think are interesting? Whatever your reason for doing a photo blog, it’s important to make sure you at least have one, in the first place. If you have never done a photo blog, then it’s likely you are doing it for personal reasons, such as trying to learn and grow as a photographer. That is an outstanding goal, and one that has helped many other bloggers, become much better at photography as well.
Once you know precisely why you are doing your blog, it will serve as a guide for everything you post. Brandon Stanton started the well-known Humans of New York blog with a specific purpose: to photograph 10,000 people living in New York City. This helped him have a sense of purpose and direction when taking and posting photos, and doing the same thing can greatly benefit you as well. If you cannot explicitly state why you are doing a blog, it is much more likely to gather virtual dust after a short time, and any readers you do manage to pick up, will possibly stop investing their time in it as well.
One of the first pictures I ever posted to my blog. It’s not even an interesting photo, but I was just starting out, and can look back on this to see how much I have learned since then.
In 2008 the web analytics firm Technorati found that roughly 95% of the blogs it tracked, went more than 120 days without being updated. When your blog goes four months without anything new, it is more than likely a failure. So how can you keep your blog not only surviving, but thriving past 120 days, and well beyond? Here are few more tips that might help:
Clearly articulate the purpose of your photo blog to your viewers
Attention spans are short, and people today have a never-ending stream of tweets, news clips, soundbites, app updates, and cat videos coming their way, almost every waking moment. So,how on earth can you make your blog stand out, and get noticed amid all the other sites, apps, and feeds that people check on a daily basis?
New readers should be able to tell within five seconds, what your blog is about. The best option is to have a specific niche that your photo blog serves (e.g. wildlife, surfers, snowflakes, street pictures, etc.). But, even if it’s just pictures you like taking for no particular reason, you should at least make that clear to your readers upfront. You’re basically setting expectations right from the outset, and giving your audience a clear sense of what they will get out of reading your photo blog. Some people do this by having a descriptive name for their blogs, a brief tagline, or a set of pictures that instantly conveys a sense of purpose (e.g. flowers, cattle, cars, sunsets, etc.). Whatever the purpose of your photo blog is, if your readers can’t figure it out, they’re going to quickly move elsewhere.
My blog is specifically for photos I take with my 50mm lens, and I make that clear to my readers immediately when they visit the site. If you don’t let your readers know what your blog is about, they will probably not stick around very long.
Post new content regularly
Not every blog that is updated regularly is going to be a success, but every successful blog is updated regularly. I have seen too many photographers start blogs that are updated daily, then weekly, and before long, the rate at which new pictures are posted slows to a trickle. Soon it’s a photo every couple weeks, then one a month, and then a written apology by the blogger about how he or she has just been so busy lately, but they promise to start posting more photos soon. More often than not, soon becomes later, then later becomes never, and a once-promising photo blog becomes another statistic of failure rates.
The best way to combat this problem, is to not post pictures whenever you feel like it, but instead post them on a regular and predictable basis. This gives your readers something to expect, and also imparts upon you, the blogger, a sense of accountability, which helps keep your camera in your hands and out of your closet. My photo blog is titled “Weekly Fifty”, and because it requires me to post a picture every single week, I almost always carry my camera with me, and am constantly looking for photo opportunities. In almost three years I have never failed to post a photo each Wednesday morning, which has helped me build a nice following, with regular commenters as well.
A few years ago I ran out of ideas for pictures to post, but I knew I had to stick with my weekly schedule. So, I made this image, that turned out to be one of my more popular photos.
One trick I like to recommend for photo bloggers, is to schedule your posts in advance. This doesn’t work well for blogs about news or current events, but as a photo bloggers you do not have to be timely in the same manner. I currently have complete posts (each with a photo, written explanatory text, and an accompanying 4-minute audio commentary) scheduled for the next six weeks. I use WordPress, which allows me to schedule posts in advance, so each of these six posts will be automatically published on subsequent Wednesdays at 1:00 a.m. This gives me a bit of padding, if I ever find myself in a position with lots of things going on in my life, and my readers know that they will get a new picture each week, no matter what.
Of course the catch here, is that I can’t merely sit on my laurels in the meantime. I have to keep taking pictures, and producing new blog posts, so that six weeks from now I don’t run out of material. This type of accountability is enormously helpful for photo bloggers, and if you’re not sure where to start, I always recommend doing one picture each week. If that’s too much you can lower it, and if it’s not often enough you can increase it, but I have found that a weekly schedule is a sweet spot that gives you enough time to take pictures, and doesn’t overload your readers with so much new content that they start ignoring it.
Engage with your audience
Building a loyal audience is the holy grail of almost every blogger, but it’s not easy to do. Your readers have many obligations, alerts, people demanding their time, and often it’s difficult enough just to get them to visit your blog in the first place, much less comment on a photo, or offer some kind of reaction to it. Early in the life of your blog, visitors will usually not be invested in your pictures enough to leave comments. But, as you start to build traffic, and readership over time, you will likely have a few people who start to offer feedback on your images.
When you do get commenters it’s essential that you interact with them, in order to build a sense of community, respect, and mutual sharing. If someone likes one of your pictures, say “Thank you” and ask if you can see some of their photos too. If someone offers a bit of constructive criticism on a picture, try re-taking a similar photo using their suggestions. You can offer a Call to Action by posting a photo, and encouraging your readers to take, and share similar photos in the comments section. This type of audience engagement benefits all parties; by giving you even more reasons to continue your blog, giving your readers a reason to keep coming back, and giving new readers a sense that your photos are interesting and worthy of comments.
This chart shows my comment statistics for calendar year 2015. I ran my blog for almost a year and a half before getting any regular commenters, and now I get about 40 comments each month. It’s not huge, but it’s a number with which I am very happy.
If your blog grows to mammoth proportions, and you start getting hundreds of comments on each picture, it might not be reasonable to reply to every single one, but until that happens you need to take care to give each commenter a personal response. If people are taking time out of their day to leave comments on your pictures, knowing that you personally read and responded, will make them want to keep visiting your blog, and engaging with you as well as other readers.
On my blog I have a few loyal readers who comment on every single picture, and it’s well worth a few minutes of my time each week to respond to the things they write. This helps make my commenters feel valued, and builds a sense of community that would not exist otherwise.
Push content to your readers
People rarely go out of their way to visit a blog, so instead you need to find a way to push your new pictures to them. One of the most effective ways of doing this is to ask your readers to sign up for email updates, but you can also use social networks to get the word out about each new post.
Every Wednesday my email subscribers get that week’s photo in their email inbox, but I also publish a link to my blog on Facebook and Twitter, and put that week’s image in my Instagram feed as well. (With the last option people are not directed to my blog, but I still get to engage with them about my pictures.) If you would like to ultimately generate revenue from your blog you might want to focus on ways of pushing content to your readers that, as often as possible, will bring them directly to your site and not to somewhere else that also has your photos.
I woke up the morning this photo was published and found two comments had already been posted at about 2am. This type of engagement is possible because these people subscribed to email updates. If you don’t have a way of pushing content to your readers you will likely not get the same level of engagement as you would otherwise.
Define your success criteria
I teach a Project Management class at Oklahoma State University. One concept we talk about often is how to tell if a project is successful, and the same holds true for your photo blog. At what point will you know that your blog has succeeded in meeting your goals? Will you be happy if you have two comments, and 10 social media shares for each picture you post? Are you looking for a way to generate a specific amount of revenue from your blog? Or is your success criteria more esoteric, such as using your blog for a sense of personal growth and development?
Having a set of clearly-defined success criteria is not necessarily essential for a blog, but it will give you something to shoot for, and a way of knowing whether you have gotten there or not. Whatever your success criteria is, take care to not compare it to anyone else’s. For example one of your photos might get five comments and 10 social media shares, but then you talk to a friend who just had five thousand visitors to his blog. Whose blog is more successful? The answer is…they both are.
Success depends entirely on how you define it, and thankfully the internet is big enough for millions of photo blogs to coexist. Congratulate your friend, and ask to see the photo that was so popular. Don’t make your blog’s success a competition, because and as long as you are happy with how things are going, then that’s the only thing that matters.
This photo had a great deal of personal meaning to me, but it generated very little traffic, and almost no comments. If my success criteria was only quantifiable through numbers I would have been let down, but instead the sheer act of taking this photo, forced me out of my comfort zone, and made me try something new. Because of that I considered this one of my better images, even though raw numbers might say otherwise.
Ignore the numbers
Visitor statistics can be so exciting, but they can also lead you down the path to the blogging dark side. It can be fun to log in to your account dashboard, and see that a recent picture generated 200 visitors, but those numbers don’t mean anything, if they don’t translate to reader engagement. Imagine building a store and getting hundreds of people to come see your wares, but having every one of them leave without making a purchase. Not only would your store be a failure, but you would quite likely be disappointed on a deeply personal level.
As a photo blogger you need to strive for quality over quantity, and look for ways to build a loyal following, not just try to increase raw visitor statistics. You might get a nice feeling seeing one of your photos get hundreds or thousands of views, but what happens when a different (or far better) picture you post gets only a couple dozen views? Visitor traffic is a fickle mistress, and if you pin your blogging hopes and dreams on simply making the numbers go up, you could very well be setting yourself up for a painful failure.
February 2015 was a big month for my blog, but the numbers have gone down dramatically ever since. Since my success criteria is not measured in raw numbers this drop in traffic makes no difference to me, but if numbers are your goal then you could very well end up chasing a white whale that can never be captured.
I used to run a movie and TV review website, and wrote an article about the now-defunct show, “Man versus Food” on The Travel Channel. Somehow the host of the show found out about the article, tweeted it to his followers, and that single article generated more traffic than anything else we had ever posted. The problem was that those visitors did not stick around, and within a few weeks we were back to the same relatively low numbers we always had. At the time I figured blogging success meant getting sky-high traffic numbers, and when those numbers did not pan out I thought we had failed.
When I started my Weekly Fifty photo blog, I took an entirely different route and tried hard to ignore numbers about visitor statistics, and have been much happier as a result. I do my blog because it helps me learn and grow as a photographer, and I get a great deal of personal satisfaction out of it. I appreciate the continual challenge it offers. In short, I’m a happy and successful small-time photo blogger, because I don’t let numbers and statistics define what success means to me.
This is by far the worst photo I have ever posted on my blog and it’s almost painful to look at it now. But early on in my blog, I had no idea what I was doing, and it was only through taking lots of bad pictures that I learned how to make a good image. Though this picture is kind of embarrassing, it served a valuable purpose both on my blog, and for me as a photographer.
Do you have a photo blog, or are you thinking about starting one? I’d love to hear any tips you would like to share, and will try to answer any questions you might have as well. Leave your thoughts in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to engage with you, the dPS readers, so you feel valued and keep coming back to our site.
Sunflares can make an otherwise dull image, look pretty dramatic. It’s very tricky to get good images of a sunflare in-camera, especially when using natural light only, as the contrast between the light and dark parts of the image is often too great that no amount of Active-D lighting can fix. Thankfully, we have Photoshop and many special effects like sunflares can be magically created, added, or enhanced, using this software’s mind-blowing functionality.
Why add a sunflare?
Special effects, such as a sunflare, ultimately boil down to the photographer’s personal taste. Here are a few reasons why sunflares may be added in post-processing.
To exaggerate the sun’s rays.
To enhance contrast and inject drama.
To hide unwanted clutter.
To achieve artistic effects, for example if you are aiming for a dreamy and romantic effect, or soft and hazy ambience, such as the image above right.
When not to add a sunflare?
When you discover the magic of Photoshop, you can easily get carried away by the excitement of adding special effects, and there’s the danger that you add it on all your images, even when completely out of context, out of place, or totally unnecessary. I suggest avoiding sunflares when:
There is no sun at all or any large light source, in the shot.
When it makes the image look completely fake, when you really mean for it to look natural.
How to add flare in Photoshop
As is the usual case in Photoshop, there are always several methods to do something. This tutorial focuses on two ways of adding a sunflare.
1. Method one: Using the LensFlare filter
Adding a bright sunflare to the image above won’t make much difference to an already washed out sky and part of the building. First of all you would need to create contrast by darkening the image. Copy the image on a new layer using CMD/CNTRL + J, and darken it using a Levels adjustment layer.
Merge the background copy layer with the levels layer, by selecting both layers and typing CMD/CNTRL + E to merge them. Now you have a new darkened layer. Make another copy of the new darkened layer, then work on this new layer with the sunflare.
When you add sunflare, it is automatically added on the layer as part of the image, and not on a new layer by itself. So to be safe, keep a copy of the darkened layer which you don’t touch. Always work on the new copy with the sunflare, so in case you make mistakes or need to reposition your sunflare, then you won’t need make a darkened layer all over again. You can just delete the layer you are working on, and duplicate your untouched dark layer, to start adding a new sunflare.
In Photoshop, bring up the Lens Flare from the top menu bar using the Filter>Render>LensFlare drop down menu.
You can experiment which type of lens flare you want to add, by clicking the circles next to the type of sunflare option, and adjusting the brightness intensity by moving the slider. Click OK when you’re happy with your choice, and the sunflare will be superimposed on your image on the same layer.
Once the sunflare is applied to the image, add a layer mask, and using a soft black brush, remove some of the sunflare from areas you want to protect such as faces (make sure to paint on the mask, not on the layer).
To finish, I added a photo filter on top, to warm up the image. Below is the image before and after the sunflare has been added. It is always a good practice to save the image with sunflare as a new JPG file, and always save your Photoshop file (PSD) with all the layers in tact, in case you need to revisit it again in the future.
2. Method two: Using overlays
The built-in sunflares in Photoshop have very limited choices, as you have seen above. There are far more interesting sunflares of all shapes and colours available, in the form of overlays.
Below is an example of an image with a faint sunflare added in Photoshop, using one of the built-in choices above. I don’t think this is dramatic enough. In this example, I am exaggerating the sunflare by adding a sunflare overlay.
First darken the image with Levels, as in the first method above, using a layer mask to protect areas you don’t want to be darkened. Then apply the overlay on the entire image, as shown below.
Change the layer blend mode to Screen, which makes all the dark areas of the overlay disappear, and you will only be left with the light areas superimposed on your image.
Below is the final JPG image with the new sunflare overlay, with the whole image darkened for more contrast.
Below is another image about to be treated with a sunflare overlay, but this time way more exaggerated than the example above.
The overlay is so strong, as you can see on Layer 1 below, I have applied a levels layer to brighten it a little, and a layer mask to gradually remove some of the overlay from areas I wanted to protect.
Below is the final image with an exaggerated sunflare overlay, that looks like it has been photographed through a warm filter over the lens.
A few things to note when applying special effects
Be subtle and experiment with the opacity to achieve the desired effect.
Darken surrounding areas to emphasize flare, especially on a very bright image.
Mask off special effects from faces, and areas that clearly do not need it. The built-in sunflares in Photoshop have circular flares that appear too perfect and hard-edged. You can always mask some of this away to take the edge off, and soften the flare effect.
I hope you have enjoyed this little tutorial in adding a sunflare special effect in Photoshop. Do you have other tips and ways to add sunflares in post-processing? Please share them in the comments below.
Adventure photography has continuously become more and more popular for outdoor photographers, thanks to new technology in cameras, and the outlets of social media platforms like Instagram, that are very photography-friendly. You may have seen some posts that are routinely labeled as “epic” and want to know how to create the same awe-inspiring feeling in your own photographs.
The good news is you can! But, just like in other fields of photography, composition is extremely important when you want to start dabbling in epic scenes. Let’s look at some tips to help you start shooting better adventure photography.
1- Always have your camera on
Like a lot of photographers, you may suffer from battery anxiety, the fear that your battery is going to die and you’ll miss that one shot you’ve been waiting for your entire life. Well, when you constantly have your camera turned off, you’re probably going to miss more amazing split second shots, than if your battery died. That’s why you should always leave your camera on when you’re out shooting adventure photography.
Are you out hiking with your friends? Leave the camera on. What about spelunking in some caves? Leave the camera on. What if you’re zip-lining through a jungle canopy? First, leave your camera on, and then hold on to your camera tightly.
You won’t have to worry about battery anxiety if you properly pack, including extra batteries to take with you. Simply leave your camera on, never put your lens cap on, use a lens hood to protect the lens, and take a micro-fibre cloth to clean the lens. Your fear of the battery going dead should never stand between you, and freezing an adventurous moment in time.
2 – Put yourself in the frame
Adventure photography features people living their lives to the fullest, by placing them in amazing landscape scenes. But, what if you aren’t in nature with anyone else? I’m sure you’ve faced that dilemma before. Well, instead of feeling like all is lost, think outside the box and put yourself into the frame.
It may feel a bit strange at first to feature yourself in a photograph, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do,in order to get the shot! If you’ve never done this before, all you have to do is mount your camera on a tripod, and set it to the 10-second delayed timer. Once you press the shutter and the timer starts, get into position, and wait for the camera to do its thing.
You might want to also set your camera to take a series of shots once the ten second timer is complete, to be sure you get a suitable photograph. Many cameras have the option to use the timer, or one with continuous shots. Sometimes you might not get in place fast enough, but using a multiple shot sequence will allow you to have a couple more frames to get into position.
3 – Subject placement in adventure photography
Subject placement is extremely important in adventure photography. You want to feature your subject (the person out adventuring) in the landscape, without any distractions or limitations. Anyone viewing your adventure photograph should never be confused about where the subject is, or what they are doing.
It doesn’t matter whether your subject is close to the camera, or way off in the distance. What matters is their placement in space. So, when you’re inspecting a landscape, and trying to decide where to place your subject, always look for a solid color or a negative space to place them.
The people in the landscape will stand out against a solid color and negative space, to allow your audience to locate the subject immediately. The last thing you want when you show a photo, is someone trying to find your subject because they are right on the horizon line, or lost in a pattern of shadows.
Not only will placing your subject in negative space clearly reveal where and what your subject is, but it will also eliminate any boring spaces in the photograph’s composition.
4 – Choose a better perspective
Perspective, or point of view, in photography ia always important when you’re trying to show a scene more creatively. Think about it; everyone walks around all day seeing everything at eye level. So, if you want to show something differently, shoot a perspective that isn’t at eye level.
Getting lower to the ground gives your subject in adventure photography a larger than life feel. This is usually shot with a wide angle lens, to fit a low perspective foreground, and the landscape into one photograph. Low perspectives show the importance of a person or activity, more than the landscape surrounding them.
Higher perspectives feature the landscape more than the subject, making the natural elements of the frame seem larger than they actually are in reality. These points of view are usually used to look down on your subject, while allowing you to show more of a landscape as well.
5 – Show scale
Do you remember doing science projects in school where you’d have to collect photo evidence of your specimen, by placing a pencil or coin next to it to show its size? Well, that’s called scale. You use an object of a well-known size next to your find, to give your audience an idea of the actual size of the specimen shown.
You can actually do the exact same thing in adventure photography. Everyone knows the average size of a human. However, when you show a photograph of just a cliff, it’s difficult for someone to get a really good idea of how large the cliff actually is.
The solution is to incorporate a well-known average size (in adventure photography that would be a person) into the frame, so your audience is able to get a much better idea of how large and grand the landscape actually is. This is a tremendous composition technique to use whenever you feel absolutely dwarfed in nature.
6 – Think about using silhouettes
Silhouettes are another great technique that you can use in adventure photography. Whenever you’re stuck in a bad lighting situation, one that has too much dynamic range to be able to capture both your subject and the landscape in good light, go directly for the silhouette shot.
To use silhouettes effectively in adventure photography, place your subject on a solid line within the scene. This could be either a horizontal or a vertical line. For example, you could place your subject on a hiking trail, or on a vertical wall, while rock climbing. Next, compliment your subject by placing an interesting background behind them, such as a forest or sunset.
The key to an effective complementary background is to create a composition that features your subject first. This goes back to what you learned on subject placement in adventure photography. Never overpower the subject of the photograph by hiding them in a complementary background.
7 – Make your audience jealous
Lastly, make your audience jealous with your adventure photography. Compose an adventure photograph in a way that makes people want to go where you went, and do what you did. The overall goal of adventure photography is to get people outside, exploring new places.
Let your audience live vicariously through your photography. When you’re able to do that, you’ve definitely stepped up your adventure photography game.
So, by all means, get out and document your adventures!
Do you have any other adventure photography tips to share? Or perhaps some of your favorite adventure photography images? Please do so in the comments below.