Good Photography Tools

Photographs preserve the memories of your life. The exciting places you have been, the wonderful scenery, and the great people you met, minds are triggered by images that we take throughout our life and reviewing the photographs helps everyone relive their adventures and misadventures. Taking pictures is a very accessible artform. With a little thought and effort you can create captivating images of your own creation and interpretation.

Fortunately, taking good photographs has little to do with owning expensive equipment and knowing technical data. A good photograph has qualities that display the skill, art, interests, and personality of the photographer. A photograph is a message and like any message, you first need a subject. This may be your traveling companions, a building, a natural vista, or some abstract form. The subject is the central point of interest and is usually placed in the foreground of the shot (towards the viewer). And normally a photographer composes the message by including a second element, a context, which is often the background. The context gives the subject relevance, presence, location, or other interest. It is the combination of the two elements - subject and context, foreground and background - that tells the message.

Just as important as knowing what to include, a good photographer knows what to exclude. Anything that isn't part of the subject or its context is only a distraction, cluttering up the image and diluting the message. So eliminate extraneous surroundings - usually by moving closer to the subject - and make a clear, tidy shot. A painter creates art by addition - adding more paint - whereas a photographer creates art by subtraction - removing unnecessary elements. A goop photographer should remember that the recipe for a good photograph is,' a foreground, a background, and nothing else.'

A good photograph is piece of art. It captures the spirit of a subject and evokes emotion. You should be an artist that can use subtle tricks to appeal to your viewer's senses. The overall composition, the proportions of layout, denotes importance of the elements. As the artist, you can decide which features appeals to you, and how best to emphasize them. However, a good photographer, apart from concentrating on his ideas should also be compact by carrying his regular tools to shoot a good photograph and here is the list of the items without which a good photographer never steps out of his house!

A basic camera ofcourse is part of the tools lists: fundamentally, all cameras are the same and, given the same settings, a cheap camera will take the same photograph as an expensive camera. The extra money gets you improved image quality and more control over how the picture will look. Adding more controls, mainly to do with the lens, produces different types of cameras. Given below are the types:

  1. Disposable Camera: These one-time use cameras are easy to carry and take surprisingly good shots. They are great for people shot at parties. You can even get "underwater" cameras, for scuba diving or at a sandy beach.

  2. Compact "Point-and-Shoot" Camera: These are perfect for snapshots. It can be used for most of the personal shots and a few professional shots. It can be like a small, pocket-sized camera with a flash (for people's faces), a self-timer a wide-angle lens (28mm-equivalent for impact), and a panoramic mode. Most people seem to like a big, zoom lens, but a bigger lens increases the size and weight of the camera.

  3. SLR: This is the choice of semi-pro and professional travel photographers. The Single Lens Reflex feature, which allows the viewfinder to look through the main lens instead of its own fixed lens, allows you to remove and replace the lens. Interchangeable lenses give you more creative control of your shot. You can make a super-wide shot with a 'short' lens, or enlarge a very distant object with a 'long' lens. You can also control the aperture (the size of the hole) which allows you to decide what is, and what is not, in focus. The downside to the SLR is that you now have more equipment to buy and carry.

  4. Medium- and Large-Format: These are big film cameras, their size allows you to use larger film, producing a higher quality/resolution image. The equipment is large and heavy and, therefore, inconvenient for basic travel purposes. Look for a camera with the simplest layout of the features you need and, as with the stock market, only invest in what you understand.

Most people start with a medium zoom lens, as another good photography tool such as 35-80mm or 80-135mm, then a telephoto 100-210mm. The lens used the most is a 24-35mm as you can do so much with it. Many professionals like a 20mm lens, the exaggerated perspective adds great punch and depth to their shots. A popular 'long' lens is 80-210mm, even that extra 90mm seems to go a long way. You can use a 2x converter to double the length but there are drawbacks. It adds two precious f-stops resulting in slower shutter speed, and decreases the optical quality by 10-20%. With such a long focal length you will also need a tripod.

Lenses are also a part of the photography tool. They are fragile and expensive so protect them with front and rear lens caps. Adding an UV or skylight filter to each lens serves as extra protection. It is also cheaper to replace a damaged filter than a broken lens. A strap can be useful for carrying the camera. It keeps your hands free while keeping the camera primed for action. A nice wide strap spreads the load. Choose a camera case that carries all your kit and is well padded. Adjustable compartments and pockets are useful. Shoulder bags are popular but carrying the weight on one side all day can get uncomfortable. A backpack is also useful as it frees up both hands and makes it easier to travel. Many professionals prefer a bag that also fits around the waist. This way, they have ready access to a range of lenses.

Your choice of filters, as with everything else you can use four filters -

  • A standard polarizer,
  • A blue-yellow polarizer,
  • A FL-D filter and
  • An 81B filter.

With the standard polarizer, rotating the filter gives deep blue skies and strengthens colors by removing glare and reflections. The blue-yellow is a good color enhancer, it makes skies electric blue and increases the amount of golden yellow on buildings. The usage of the FL-D filter on most sunsets and dusk shots adds a warm purple color to the sky. The 81B filter is good for warming up shots when you are shooting around midday. Here are some other filters:

  • Colour Enhancer: Enhances reds, but can leave a cold blue/violet cast and is expensive.

  • Colour Correcting: Enhances particular colors - green is good to enhance foliage. For example, a CC20G adds 20% green by reducing other colors by 80%.

  • Single Colour: Add an overall blue, orange or sepia cast to your shot.

  • 81A, 81B or 81C: Simulates late afternoon light by adding an orange/brown cast. A is light, B medium, and C strong.

  • Haze 1 or Skylight 1A: Can reduce haze at high altitude. Skylight 1A adds a slight pink "warming" cast. Used often to protect lenses.

  • Neutral Density or Split-Field Neutral Density: Reduces the brightness of a scene, for better control of aperture. A split-field neutral density reduces a bright sky to match a shaded foreground.
  • Red or Yellow: Increases tonal contrast in black-and-white photographs.

Extra Photo Storage:
If you're going on a long trip, you'll be taking lots of photos, so you'll need some way to store those pictures. Depending upon what type of camera you have, take extra "flash" memory cards or film, a photo hard disc, or laptop.

Dirty lenses or filters produce low-contrast images and washed-out colors. Keep things clean with a soft lint-free cloth, special dust-free tissues, lens-cleaning fluid, and a blower brush. A pair of tweezers is useful if sand or dirt gets lodged inside the camera. A small screwdriver can tighten up any screws that come loose, particularly on long lenses, which don't like the vibrations of traveling.

A flash is useful for brightening people's faces on overcast days, and for indoor shots. Many cameras today include a built-in flash, which is suitable for most purposes. If you are keen on interiors, consider a hand-held flash to brighten dark areas while the shutter remains open. Remember that many museums prohibit flash units as they can damage the exhibits.

A full-size tripod is essential for steady, top-quality shots, but is too cumbersome for most travelers. Instead carry a monopod, or a mini-tripod - coupled with a wall or table, they're almost as good. If you have a tripod, you'll also need a cable release to avoid camera movement when you take the shot. You can alternatively use the self-timer feature.

A notepad and a pen can be useful for remembering good locations, bus numbers, details about your subjects, and addresses of people you meet. If you are considering submitting shots for competitions, you will also need to note your camera settings.

If your camera uses rechargeable batteries, never forget the recharger. If you are going overseas, you might need a voltage/power converter. Take a second, spare rechargeable battery, so that you can keep shooting. It is easy to avoid buying spare batteries but there's nothing more infuriating than getting somewhere fabulous and finding out that your camera won't power up.

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