A basic knowledge of photography
if you are a complete beginner, you should invest in
a good book to introduce you to the subject.
Photography is a skill, like other skills such as
Karate, Needlepoint, and being a Jedi Master it requires practice and hard
work to get good at it. If you do get good at it you will have a valuable
skill that will repay you with a wonderful record of your life and travels.
Practice before you go. You will be taking
pictures of wildlife and landscapes, so practice on these if possible, pets
make a good substitute for wildlife as the difference between an ok photograph
and a great one is timing, position and lighting, not just subject. If you
go to Antarctica and the last time you picked up a camera was the office
party or your cousins wedding, then the pictures probably won't be
Look at your photos and assess them critically.
Why are the good ones good? Why aren't the bad ones better, think about
what you did and what you could change next time. Also, show them
to some-one else and get their opinion too. I often find that the pictures
that I take that I think are fantastic get a "yeah it's ok" response whereas
the ones I think are just ok are the ones that get enthused about. The difficult
pictures to get - that take the most effort - aren't always the best.
When practicing, limit yourself to a standard lens
to begin with, you should be spending most of your brain power on getting
into the right place and clicking the shutter at the right moment, not on
which gadget you need.
phrase coined by the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson sums
up what makes a great photograph. In essence it is knowing exactly when
to take the photograph. You have a found a good subject and are in the perfect
position, but things are changing, one moment the picture would be ok, the
next, when expressions have changed - truly memorable.
Cartier-Bresson mainly photographed people and so
it is easy to see his point. The same principle applies to nearly all photographs
irrespective of subject. With wildlife the animal is almost constantly moving.
Don't just point and shoot (despite the advertising and "ease" of use message,
this only makes for quick photos, not good photos). Set yourself up, sit
and watch the subject through the lens, don't just click away hoping for
the best, wait for the "decisive moment", if you miss it, wait, it may happen
The same applies to landscapes, but this time
it is the lighting that is changing. Antarctica is windy and so cloud is
frequently blowing by making it sunny one minute, cloudy the next. Sunsets
evolve, they build up and fade away. Waves wash over the bow of the ship
or over the shallow reaches of an iceberg, whatever is happening will change
the photograph. The legendary American nature photographer
Ansel Adams would
frequently wait for hours in one position, for the elements of sun, cloud
and light to come together perfectly for the best possible picture.
"Point and Shoot" has become
the name of a category of camera, it is not a instruction!
doesn't make for good photographs.
ultimate photographic accessory
don't like photographic gadgets and accessories are best kept to the absolute
minimum. However, there are two accessories that are totally invaluable
to the photographer and most of us are fortunate enough to already have
them in full working order. They are your legs.
I have seen so many people in Antarctica and
elsewhere trying to take good photographs from where they happen to be standing
at the time. It is unlikely that as you come across the best photographic
opportunities you will automatically be in the best position.
A good photograph is
knowing where to stand.
Think about framing, what is in the background? Do
you really want a picture of that Gentoo penguin and chick with some tourists
in red coats behind it? You may have the most wonderful view of mountains
and glacier from the ship, but do you want a radio mast towards the side
of the shot? If you're photographing people do you really want to cut them
off at the knees and have an expanse of sky above their heads?
Perhaps if you walked up the slope of the hill a
little, you could avoid that dull expanse of featureless rock that takes
up the bottom third of your picture of that dazzling iceberg off shore.
Get used to seeing everything through the lens as
the finished picture and move yourself around to include or exclude elements
of that picture for best effect.
Sloping horizons and being on the level
One of the main reasons for producing
less than wonderful pictures is that the photographer looks through the
lens at the subject and disregards whatever else he or she may see.
Everything you see through your viewfinder will be in the picture.
Background - What is behind
your subject? Does it add to the picture or does it distract. Out of focus
ice and sea behind many Antarctic wildlife shots add atmosphere, bare rocks
less so, so why not move position. Are there things in the background that
you don't want? If you are taking a picture of a seal, don't have a mass
of penguins behind, unless that is the photo you really want to take. Decide
what your subject is and take a picture of that and only that.
On a more
mundane note, bits of ship, boat, tourist etc. in the background generally
don't make for a good picture.
horizons. Look at the horizon, it's level, that's because
we perceive it that way. Make sure any horizon in any photograph
you take is horizontal, sloping drunken horizons are the tell-tale
mark of a poor photographer.
You do get a second chance at fixing this with digital
photography when you optimize the pictures on your computer, but
it's still important as it can reduce the possibilities when
cropping your photographs.
Being on the level. Not
sloping horizons this time, but being at the same level as your subject.
Most animals you will photograph, penguins, seals and pets are much lower
than you are. Get down to their level, otherwise you get a picture that
implies you are outside of their world gazing in, rather than being a part
of that world. (The same applies for small children).
Cameras these days come with a built
in exposure meter to measure the amount of light around and to tell you
how the camera recommends that you deal with it in terms of which shutter
speed and aperture, or "f-stop", to use, they will also
usually set these for you automatically and possibly tell you what they
Light meters work to render the scene
that they are faced with as an average overall shade of grey. This is fine
for the majority of scenes and the actual range of highlights and shadows
mean that a light meter reading is accurate.
Many light meters however have a problem
when faced with large amounts of highly reflective snow and ice. The actual reading from the meter if used directly will give a too-dark
exposure. When we see snow and ice, the scene is largely white, consisting
of far more highlights than shadows so we frequently need to over-expose
the scene, that is to give the film more light than the light meter says
that it needs. This is best done by "bracketing" exposures, take one at
what the light meter is telling you and then take another at one or two
stops more than this.
I was fortunate in that I discovered
that the British Antarctic Survey standard issue grey moleskin trousers
that I wore in Antarctica were just the right shade of grey for a perfect
exposure. When faced with a tricky exposure situation I used to take a light
meter reading from the standard grey shade of my leg and then ignore anything
else the light meter told me. This is the equivalent of using a Kodak "grey
More on exposure in digital
speed and camera shake
There is an old rule of thumb with
that you can hand-hold the lens at a shutter speed of about the reciprocal
of the focal length. In other words, a 50mm standard lens can be hand-held
at 1/50th of a second a 135mm lens at 1/135th and so on.
I take this one step further where possible
and go another shutter speed. So for a 50mm lens, take 1/50th as a start
and then don't go any slower than 1/100th of a second, the faster the better.
The difference in sharpness is marked and noticeable.
Camera shake is one of the easiest
and most effective things that you can change to improve the technical quality
of your pictures. If you carry around and use a tripod, then
the results are even better, though this is a bit much for most people.
A cheap and easy alternative is a small
bean bag, put it on a rock and press your camera against it when taking
pictures, you won't use it for every shot, but for those that you do use
it for you'll see a difference.
For hand-held shots, brace yourself
before taking the picture, pull your elbows into your body and hold your
breath just before squeezing (not jerking) the shutter.
Photographic pages -
1 - Equipment | 2 -
Photography Technique |
3 - Digital Technique