Outdoor and Travel Photography Basics S to Z

Everything you need to know to bring home great shots.

Shadows – Shadows add depth and dimension to pictures. Without shadows, pictures look flat. Overcast days and scenes before sunrise and after sunset have few if any shadows. Sunny days produce strong shadows, with the most dramatic and flattering shadows occurring in the early morning and late afternoon. For the most dramatic outdoors pictures, shoot during these hours, when the light is warm and shadows add contrast to your pictures. (Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah)



Twilight – Twilight is a wonderful time to photograph cityscapes. The mix of soft skylight and city lights produces pictures that seem to glow. When you arrive in a foreign city, ask the hotel manager when the sun sets and where most people go to photograph the sunset. Get there early, set up your tripod and compose your picture. Underexposing your pictures a bit will give you slightly more saturated colors. Set your white balance on Auto due to the mixed light sources. If you shoot film, try daylight-balanced film, which will result in pictures with warmer colors. To help prevent camera shake, use a cable or electronic release, or set your camera’s self-timer for “hands-off” shooting. (Guanajuato, Mexico)


Underwater Photography – Many books have been written on underwater photography--I’ve produced five of them myself! Shooting beneath the waves requires waterproof cameras or waterproof housings for topside digital cameras. Adorama carries an line of underwater housings and cameras (see "shop related items" on this page). Wide-angle lenses are ideal for beneath-the-waves seascapes because the refractive index of water increases the effective focal length of your lens. Lenses longer than 50mm are relatively useless for underwater shooting. However, to capture the wonders of the close-up world, you’ll need a macro lens. To bring out the colors of marine creatures, you’ll also need a flash (or two), because water filters out color selectively. The deeper you dive, the more colors you lose. (Chain moray eel, Maldives)



Vertical Shots – How you hold your camera, vertically or horizontally, and how you compose your pictures in each position, greatly affects the impact of a picture. What’s more, if you are a travel photographer who hopes to get your work published, having both a vertical and horizontal picture of the same subject increase your chances of getting into print. When you’re out shooting, make it a habit to take both vertical and horizontal photographs of the same subject. Even if publication is not your goal, you’ll be glad to have the choice when preparing an album or show. (Note: These two pictures were taken of different sections of the glacier at different angles and from different distances.) (Hubbard Glacier, Alaska)

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Waterfalls – Three technical factors to consider when photographing waterfalls are exposure, filtering and shutter speed. Because water reflects light, you’ll often see “hot spots” in waterfall scenes. To avoid these areas being washed out, slightly underexpose your picture, perhaps by a stop under the meter reading. By using your digital image-editing program, you can usually “pull” data from shadow areas, but it’s often impossible to bring back washed out highlights.

To reduce reflections in camera, use a polarizing filter. The digital polarizing filters in plug-in programs like Nik Color Efex Pro 2.0 can darken a blue sky after you take the shot, but they really can’t reduce harsh reflections like an optical polarizer can. When it comes to choosing a shutter speed, use a slow shutter speed (from 1/30 sec. to several seconds) to blur the movement of the water. Obviously, the longer the shutter speed you use, the more the water will be blurred. (Waterfall, Croton-on-Hudson, New York)


X Marks the Spot – “Being there” is one of the key ingredients for good travel pictures. So, travel as much as you can and you’ll be inspired to take great pictures as often as possible. Also, sometimes moving just a few feet to the left or right can make the difference between a great shot and a snapshot. When looking through your camera’s viewfinder, think about the best possible spot from which to take the picture, and shoot from several different vantage points to give yourself a selection later on. (Rainbow, Mohab, Utah)



You Snooze, You Lose – Simply put, get up early and stay out late when traveling. In the early morning and late afternoon hours you’ll get “golden light” in your pictures, that is, you’ll get deeper shades of red, yellow, and orange.

What’s more, long shadows will add a sense of depth and dimension to your photographs. Likewise, pictures taken around midday often look cool and flat. If you really want to get an unusual photograph, shoot an hour or so before the sun rises or after it sets. You’ll need a tripod and you’ll have to use long shutter speeds. This requires a cable release, or the use of the camera’s self-timer, to prevent camera shake.

In the soft light of pre-dawn and post-sunset, you’ll get soft, moody pictures. Long shutter speeds often result in an increase in noise in digital pictures (it looks similar to excessive grain in film pictures). Some cameras offer a noise reduction feature, which you activate manually.

Noise reduction does work, but in the noise reduction process, the lag time between shots is increased, and you may miss an opportunity. Because you can also reduce noise in the digital darkroom (using a noise reduction filter or a blur filter), I think it’s best not to use the camera’s noise reduction feature, especially when shooting active subjects. (Sunrise, Danxia Mountain, China)


Zoos and Wildlife Parks – There’s a saying about professional photographers: All pros started out as amateurs. It’s true. I’m one of them. As amateurs, you can practice your wildlife photography skills at zoos and wildlife parks. When taking pictures, try to imagine what it would be like to shoot in the field. Get to know what your camera and lenses can do, so when you do shoot animals in the wild, making camera adjustments will have become second nature. Telephoto lenses will help you isolate subjects from distracting background elements, especially if you shoot at wide apertures. (Proboscis Monkeys, Bronx Zoo, Bronx, New York)



Rick Sammon is the author of The Complete Guide to Digital Photography, published by W.W. Norton. He also recently completed two interactive CDs, Photoshop for the Outdoor and Travel Photographer and Photoshop Makeovers, distributed by Software Cinema. For information, please go to www.ricksammon.com


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