Photography

The Perfect SeV Jacket
for Photographers


Essential Travel Jacket for Men
Essential Travel Jacket for Men
In Stock - Shipping Now
$120.00
19 Pockets
Removable Sleeves

Check it Out

"Scottevest SAVED Me!!"

Scott received a very enthusiastic and very interesting email from a fantastic photographer recently. Serge Timacheff is a professional fencing photographer who has photographed several Olympic Games and authored several books. We asked him if we could share his email:

Dear Mr. Jordan,

Your vest saved me in a BIG way …

I'm a photographer for the Olympic Games (I am the lead world photographer for the International Fencing Federation, and have photographed more than 50 world championships and grand prix events as well as three Olympic Games) and I'm an author (Digital Photography for Dummies, Canon EOS Photo Workshop, plus others, including a forthcoming e-title coming out titled Travel Photography for Dummies in a Day). I have had your vest for a year or so, and I'm currently on a world pre-Olympic (London 2012) tour covering fencing events in Russia, Ukraine, Cuba, China, Japan, and Qatar.

Yesterday I was departing Moscow for Kiev, and got snagged at the check-in counter by an airline agent who wanted me to weigh my carry-on bags. My wife, who is also a professional photographer, was with me. Together we had 40 kilos of hand baggage, and our checked bags were at the limit. She told us we would have to check a bag, which we were disinclined to do. I told her we would be back shortly to check in.

We proceeded out to the main terminal, outside the check-in area, where there was a scale (we also carry one with us, but this one was more convenient). I proceeded to put nearly 40 pounds (20 kilos, approximately) of gear into my Scott Vest, which I was wearing just in case of a circumstance such as this one. I put two tablets, two camera bodies, multiple lenses (including a large 70-200mm one), wires, headphones, iPod, a book, a brick of AA batteries, and a few other odds-and-ends into my vest.

Looking like an exaggerated version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, with my vest and an overcoat on top, we walked back to the check-in counter. I casually placed my bags on the belt to be weighed, and the agent looked at me as if she was thinking "no way" … but when she saw the scale reading, she simply shook her head, looked at me, and said "OK" … !

I scurried to the immigration line, went to security, removed my vest, put it through the xray machine (they gave me the eye, too, with the giant vest, but it was not an issue), went into the main terminal, and repacked our bags.

This alone saved me more than the price of the vest. WOW-OH-WOW is all we could say.

I have spoken of your products in speeches I've given at various photography events and seminars, and I've written about it. I've even used it for minor versions of this event, but this one upped the bar on working the system like it's never been worked before.

Congratulations on a great product. You've got a die-hard fan with me, and I won't travel without your vest and my gear again.

Serge

Serge Timacheff
Official/Lead Photographer, Federation Internationale d'Escrime (FIE)
President, FencingPhotos.com

Using A Photographer's Eye

by Ted Beatie

Anyone who has gone on vacation and taken even one photograph knows the value of capturing a scene, to jog their own memory later as they try to remember the name of that 800 year old tavern in England, or that strange looking flower in Costa Rica. More importantly, travel photography serves to share those experiences with others, to bring friends and family along for the ride.

At its best, travel photography captures the essence of a place, giving the viewer a sense of what it might be like to be in that place if they were to go there themselves. It serves as an inspiration to explore the world outside one's front door. So how do you make the most impact with the images you create? How-to books and classes can certainly help, but nothing beats your own intuition and imagination.

The first fallacy in photography is in believing that it's all about the equipment. While it's true that better equipment - a good DSLR, lenses, and filters - gives one an advantage, today's point-and-shoot cameras and smartphones are more than adequate. What makes the most difference is in the mind and eye of the photographer. A well composed photo taken with an iPhone will be more compelling than a poorly taken photo with the best camera equipment.

Novice photographers often have the problem where they don't yet have a discerning eye to know what makes for a good image, and inadvertently try to compensate by simply taking more images, hoping for a good one. I remember taking a trip to Seattle about 20 years ago to visit family, and we went on a driving tour through the mountains. Dozens of photos from that trip are of far off mountains and snow-covered trees, with little interest, unable to tell one image from another.

So how does one progress to the next level of picture-taking? The first step is to simply stop for a moment before pressing the shutter. Think about the scene you're trying to capture. What is it that moves you? Composition is more than just framing what is in the shot, it's about what makes the shot interesting. Even a few moments of thought devoted to the following concepts can make a big difference.

1. Light - Whether shooting film or digital, it's all about the light. Dawn, dusk, and an overcast sky are the photographer's best bets for outdoor shots. Keep an eye on shadows, making sure one's subject is front-lit, not back-lit. Is the light itself the subject? If so, underexposing a little can make the light more dynamic, but sacrifices shadow detail. Night or low-light photography brings its own challenges, necessitating the use of flash or longer exposures, which in turn require either a steady hand, tripod, and/or increased ISO.

2. Colors - With light comes color. After all, color is the spectrum of light as perceived by the eye. Whenever possible, use color to enhance a scene, focusing on a particularly vibrant flower or costume, for example. There are tricks to enhancing colors through filters and post-processing, but the world is colorful enough on its own if one knows to pay attention to it. Changing the depth-of-field in a scene where there might be a feature color against a more monotone background can make it either pop in focus, or be a more subtle hint out of focus.

3. Shapes - Where light and color provide the visual feel, shapes engage the mind in a different manner. We humans naturally look for patterns, and as a photographer, we can use that to our advantage by using shapes to lead the viewer through the scene. Sharp angles, flowing curves, and intricate designs all serve to draw one's attention from one part of an image to another.

4. People - While a photo of inanimate objects or animals can certainly be captivating, introducing people into an image can bring an unparalleled sense of connection to the viewer. One can grasp the scale of an impressive structure, identify with a familiar emotion, or gain a sense of culture from the way that a subject might be dressed or goes about some activity.

5. Motion - Just as color, shapes, and people lend dynamic qualities to a scene, motion is by its very nature dynamic. An image of a stream with a fast exposure might seem serene, whereas that same image taken with a longer exposure might tell the story of raging river during the spring thaw. Whether focusing on a moving object against a steady background, or a steady object against a moving background, motion defines a moment in time.

Outside of these five categories of photographic elements are two additional concepts, that of the concrete and the abstract. A concrete image can be taken at face value, understood at a glance for what it is - an object, a person, a scene - which can be easily identified. An abstract image tends to focus on one minute aspect of a scene, to the exclusion of all context, removing that easily identifiable quality.

These concepts can be applied to every situation in which one wants to capture a scene, and the best teacher is experience. Over time, you'll gravitate towards a style that is all your own, dynamic and engaging, and your photography will be less about quantity and more about quality, telling a story instead of endless photos of far-off mountains and snow-covered trees.

Biography

Born with the soul of an adventurer, Ted Beatie is happiest when he’s off the beaten track. His favorite places include the Sahara desert, 100 feet underwater among the coral reefs of Fiji, and Burning Man. While he calls himself a diver, firedancer, aerial acrobat, actor, technologist and cyclist, his true passion is showing people a side of the world that they didn’t realize was there, through photography and writing. He is active on Facebook and Twitter, and maintains a travel blog and photo gallery at The Pocket Explorer. He is also the managing editor for Rolf Potts' Vagabonding Blog, and curates weekly Vagabonding Case Studies of real people going on, currently on, or returned from long term travel. He can be reached by email; ted |at| tedbeatie.com.


Ted Beatie at Tulum



Israel and Jordan

by Blaine Harrington

I’ve just returned home from an amazing visit to Israel and Jordan. I’ve been working as a travel photographer for over 35 years, and in that time I’ve visited over 70 countries. But not Israel and Jordan!

Lester Picker Photography
Blaine Harrington with the Temple Mount behind, Jerusalem, Israel. Photo by Michael Ventura

A few years ago, when voting was taking place on the new seven wonders of the world, I was asked to speak at a conference in New Jersey and share my experiences from some of the over twenty sites that were being considered. At the time, of all of the sites under consideration, the only ones I hadn’t been to were Angkor Wat in Cambodia (I’d had the opportunity to go there recently while I was in Burma, but didn’t have enough time), Easter Island, and Petra in Jordan.

Lester Picker Photography
Photographers (left to right) Robert Holmes, Andrea Johnson, Blaine Harrington and Eric Lindberg walking across the border from Israel to Jordan. Photo by Ellen Clark.

Like most seasoned travelers, I’ve been dying to get to Petra. It finally happened! You can’t imagine how exciting it is, after seeing so much of the world, to still have a few major gems left to see, and how cool it is to go someplace new!

Lester Picker Photography
Blaine Harrington riding on the back of an open 4x4 truck across the desert at Wadi Rum, Jordan (with the hood up on the Expedition Jacket). Photo by Andrea Johnson.

When I travel, one of my major goals is to hang out with the locals. I love photographing people, and feel that my photos are so much more meaningful because of the people to people exchanges that I have in my travels.

Lester Picker Photography
Blaine Harrington posing with local ladies at Petra, Jordan. They're a bit stiff. Photo by Andrea Johnson.

The Middle East is so culturally rich, in history and in the diversity of faith. In Jerusalem, I was able to photograph those acts of faith at some of the most significant sites in Christianity, Islam and Judaism: Jews praying at the Western Wall; the Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the last five stations of the cross are in the church, which is venerated as the place that Jesus was crucified). Today the church is home to Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism.

Lester Picker Photography
the Temple Mount at twilight, Jerusalem, Israel by Blaine Harrington III.

Watching the interplay of the different peoples who live essentially in some of the same neighborhoods of old Jerusalem was fascinating. In my career I’ve had the privilege to photograph at many of the holy sites of the world: the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India (holiest place of the Sikhs), the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, Burma, in the mosques of Cairo and Istanbul. Often as a photographer I am allowed access not normally granted to visitors. I cherish these moments.

Lester Picker Photography
an Armenian orthodox mass in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel by Blaine Harrington III.

Traveling to Jordan, I was accompanied by four other very talented travel photographers (Andrea Johnson, Bob Holmes, Ellen Clark and Eric Lindberg). We had already spent several weeks around Israel, and then traveled to the resort city of Eilat, Israel and then crossed the border into Jordan near Aqaba. The similarity, but also the contrast between the two neighboring resorts of Eilat and Aqaba could not have been stronger. You can see the one city from the other, as they are on the Gulf of Aqaba (also within sight were Egypt and Saudia Arabia).  As we arrived in Jordan, it was Friday afternoon (which in the Moslem week is equivalent to Sunday), and people were streaming out of the mosques after the afternoon prayer. I’d heard of the warmth of Jordanians, but I was still pleasantly surprised to experience that welcome first hand. Almost every person I came across called out “Welcome to Jordan!”. Everyone I asked to photograph were extremely receptive, from shopkeepers to men smoking sheesha (hookah waterpipes in an outdoor square).

Lester Picker Photography
Young boy lighting candles in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel by Blaine Harrington III.

From Aqaba, it was on to the two most famous tourist sites in Jordan, Wadi Rum and Petra. Both locations were made famous in major movies: Wadi Rum, for desert scenes in the movie “Lawrence of Arabia” and Petra for many movies including 1989’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

Lester Picker Photography
Street scene in the old city of Jerusalem by Blaine Harrington III.

In Wadi Rum, we camped in Bedouin tents at Captain’s Desert Camp. The tents had full size beds inside. At this time of year it is well below freezing at night in the desert there, but that only added to the experience. They were very few tourists around, most of the time our group had the entire landscape to ourselves.

Lester Picker Photography
Arab kids on a swingset, Jerusalem, Israel by Blaine Harrington III.

Of all of the major landmarks of the world that I’ve seen, such as the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal, I’ve never been disappointed by what I saw, although the scenes I saw had already been seared into my brain by a lifetime of seeing  photos and movies of the places. Petra was no different. The word “Petra” means stone in Greek. It is a completely vast archaeological site and lost city (it was the capital city of the Nabataeans), unknown to Westerners until 1812.

Lester Picker Photography
A Jewish man walks in the rain to pray at the Western Wall, Jerusalem, Israel by Blaine Harrington III.

I am only now starting to digest what I saw and experienced. Those experiences will linger. Meanwhile I am off to the opposite side of the world this weekend. I will be photographing the Australian Open of Surfing at Manly Beach near Sydney and then on to the Loyalty Islands in New Caledonia, which is inhabited by the Kanak People (the Micronesian peoples of New Caledonia).

Lester Picker Photography
The port at Eilat, Israel on the Red Sea by Blaine Harrington III.

Life is good when there’s always another adventure on the horizon! I hope you’ll enjoy my photos and please visit my website. It contains over 5,000 images from around the world.

Lester Picker Photography
Jordanian women watching the sunset across the Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea, Jordan by Blaine Harrington III.

Sidebar:

I used the Scottevest Expedition Jacket on the trip, and will be taking along on the next trip as well! I made a Youtube video about the jacket, which can be seen here.

Lester Picker Photography
A Bedouin man roasting coffee over a campfire at the Captain's Desert Camp, Wadi Rum, Jordan by Blaine Harrington III.

I loved everything that I could carry onto the flight in the jacket, and I assigned places in the coat for various things, so I could actually find them again (which is important!). I liked having the Ipod in his clear pocket (so you can actually use it while it’s in there), having earphones at the ready. Normally I have my Ipod put away in a backpack, as I don’t like getting it out (or a computer or an Ipad) if there is a chance I’ll forget it. So I was able to zip the coat up and have it next to me in an empty seat or in the overhead, knowing that everything was zipped up and not going to be lost.

Lester Picker Photography
A Bedouin man with his camels, with the Treasury monument behind, Petra, Jordan by Blaine Harrington III.

Two big features that came in handy, big time, was waterproofing (I rarely got out and shoot in the rain, but found myself in an all day torrential downpour in Jerusalem) and the zip-off hood. The hood I kept stored in a back pocket, but it came in handy several times, including riding in the back of an open 4x4 pickup truck on a cold morning riding around the desert at Wadi Rum, Jordan.

Biography

Lester Picker Photography
Blaine Harrington photographed inside the Monastery, Petra, Jordan. Photo by Andrea Johnson.

Blaine Harrington is a travel/location photographer, based in Metro Denver (Colorado, USA). He is the 2005 and 2006 SATW Travel Photographer of the Year. He has worked on assignment for most major news, business and travel magazines. With over thirty five years in business (including working in Amsterdam, New York, Paris and Zurich), Harrington has expert knowledge of Europe, as well as most regions of the world. We maintain files of over 250,000 images from over seventy countries, and are continually traveling to add new and updated material to the files.

Personal philosophy: IT HELPS TO HAVE A ZEST FOR LIFE IN THIS BUSINESS! Many of the exciting things I've photographed, I've also done. Such as, running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain; jumping off the highest bungee jump in the world in Queenstown, New Zealand; ski mountaineering the 'Haute Route' in the Alps; hiking the Milford Track in New Zealand and the Tour du Mont Blanc in Europe; plunging in the icy water with the Polar Bear Club on New Year's Day in Boulder, Colorado; scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and off Cozumel in Mexico. I've photographed everything from icebreakers in Arctic Finland to Turkish Baths in Istanbul to stock exchanges in Singapore and Hong Kong to tango dancing in Buenos Aires. My goal for life: go everywhere, meet everyone, try everything!

His work has been published in most major publications around the world, including various National Geographic Publications, Smithsonian, New York Times, Business Week, Forbes, Time, Newsweek, Geo (in France and Germany), and Islands. His work is also used in travel guide books (over 70 titles of Insight Guides, Frommer’s, Fodor’s, Moon Guides, etc.), by major adventure travel companies and on prestigious calendars (such as the 2012 Nikon Calendar cover and on a number of World Wildlife Fund calendars).


SCOTTEVEST - The Photographer’s Advantage

by Lester Picker

Well, it’s a new year and already I’m behind schedule! When I grow up, I hope I’ll finally get the hang of juggling all my various roles, while still being able to get out and photograph as much as I’d like. After all, the more I get out, the less I have to suffer through my country’s political primaries and ever more negative campaign ads. On a positive note, ScotteVest is celebrating Photography Month in February, its first salute to one of its most ardent customer bases. I’ve said this before in my SeV column; I was a happy customer long before I became their photography columnist. It’s a simple matter for me; if SeV products did not make my job easier I’d be using someone else’s gear.

Lester Picker Photography
Les in Yukon (Fleece 5.0 under snow pants) Credit: Jim Kemshead

In a typical year I’m out on assignment for months at a time. My schedule for this year is already daunting. Yes, I’ve had two months free of travel. My Africa trip in January was cancelled to unrest in two of the countries I was to visit, but starting in February my photo assignments take me to Finland’s Arctic Circle, then a week off before flying to Israel. Twenty-four hours after my return, I’m off to Sri Lanka. Next up is Iceland, then Norway. In October it’s Maine, where I teach a fall foliage photo workshop. Who knows what November and December will bring?

The only constants for me seem to be my camera bags and my ScotteVest clothing. Both are always packed and ready top go on a moment’s notice. Let’s start with my SeV Fleece 5.0. It has changed my entire way of traveling. I’ve got it down to a routine that I could do sleepwalking. With its gazillion pockets, everything has its place. The load is so evenly distributed, with my most valuable electronics tucked inside and out of sight, I don’t get exhausted trudging through airports. In hot climates, I simply unzip and store the sleeves.

Lester Picker Photography
Les in Nevada (sleeveless Fleece 5.0) Credit: Dan Stainer

Funny story… one day I was challenged by an Air Canada ticket agent who scowled when my carry-on was overweight (actually, it was waaay over). She demanded it go into checked baggage. “No way,” I told her, and I opened it right at the checkout, unloaded lenses, flashes and a camera body, comfortably slid them into pockets in my ScotteVest and gave her back my carry-on to be weighed. Man, was she angry as I sauntered away!

In my check-in I always have an SeV outer jacket packed. Last year I was called by The Chicago Tribune to record the Quest dogsled race, a 1,000-mile long trial by snow, ice and -60F temps, from Whitehorse, Yukon to Fairbanks, Alaska. The only jacket I took with me was the SeV jacket that is the predecessor to today’s Revolution Jacket. One night I stood outdoors for five hours photographing the Northern Lights. I endured three feet of snow with the temp at -35F and a slight breeze blowing and was toasty warm (okay, maybe not so toasty). In the spirit of full disclosure I was, of course, layered and had great boots and foot warmers. My colleague was stuffed into his Pillsbury Dough Boy down jacket with two useless pockets and whined throughout the night.

Lester Picker Photography
Les in New Zealand (Older version jacket) Credit: Leslie Picker

My SeV jackets have tons of room for my photo accessories (like 37 pockets in the Expedition jacket!). My SeV jackts even look good when I’m invited to dinner (rarely). And another thing I love about my SeV clothing is how incredibly well made they are. My work life involves hiking, backpacking, climbing, crawling, kneeling, stooping and whatever else I need to do to capture that image. My SeV clothing has stood up to it all and still looks great.

Okay, so I’m a walking advertisement for SeV. But, know this… I don’t get paid by SeV. I just believe in their products. Yes, I do get to try out some SeV clothing now and then, but my blog readers know that if something does not work for me, whether clothing or camera gear, I tell it like it is. Are there some things I’d like to change about SeV clothing? Of course. Side-slash pockets, for example, are not as handy for field photographers as are cargo pockets. The Revolution jacket, with its front cargo pouch pockets are a step in the right direction for us photo nuts.

To help celebrate Photography Month at SeV, the great people at SeV and I are giving away a Classic Vest to the winning man or woman. Just head over to my blog site to enter. Once you try one on, you’ll be hooked on SeV.

Lester Picker Photography
Les in Vermont (Hoodie) Credit: Morgan Melekos

Les Picker is a professional photographer whose work has appeared in National Geographic books and magazines and dozens of other major magazines and newspapers. He travels widely throughout the world.

If you have questions on this or any other photography topic, please send your questions to: lespicker@gmail.com or visit http://www.lesterpickerphoto.com/


When Autumn Leaves Start to Fall

by Lester Picker

Well, here we are, in the midst of Fall foliage, the time when everyone who owns a camera dusts off their lenses and hits the road to capture those radiant colors. I thought it would be a good time to offer ScotteVest readers some tips for creating more dynamic images.

Use a Polarizing Filter

Polarizing filters cut glare, haziness and accentuate colors, making them pop off the printed page (or your iPod or iPad screen). Even point-and-shooters can very effectively use a polarizer by just holding it in front of their lens as they shoot. Using a polarizer allows less light to come through the lens, so you’ll need longer exposures, making a tripod a handy item to take along. In this image, even though it was foggy up above, the sunlight on the aspens benefitted from my polarizer.

Lester Picker Photography

Look for Bad Weather Days

Contrary to popular opinion, you can capture some of the best fall images on overcast days, particularly after a rainy spell. You just have to leave out the gray sky and instead focus on the forest canopy itself or on a tight shot of the forest floor. In this image, taken in the Yukon, the sky was so bleak the only way to salvage the shot was to use the reflection only.

Lester Picker Photography

Bring Along a Tripod

Using a tripod allows you to take longer exposures, which may help you with images that show moving water, assuming you want a “softer” look to the water. It will also help on overcast days, as you’ll want to keep your ISO as low as possible to minimize grain.

Go Often and Stay Long

The key to good fall images is to be there. That means repeat visits to your local park at different times of day and during varied weather conditions. Staying rooted in one spot often helps. Deer, squirrels, fox and other critters may get used to your presence and perform for you. In this case, a simple sign and curving road accent Fall's presence.

Lester Picker Photography

Double the Viewing Pleasure

Fall is the perfect time to catch reflections in a pond or lake, thereby doubling the impact of the image. The colors shout off the page or screen. I captured this image of Wedge Pond in Kananaskis National Park near Calgary, Canada.

Lester Picker Photography

Go Abstract

Fall colors alone can carry the image, so use them creatively. Here I shot a collection of leaves that had accumulated near a small earthen dam.

Lester Picker Photography

To Market, To Market

Try out your local farmers’ markets to catch some fall color in pumpkins, corn stalks, pies and cider.

No matter what tips you read about, nothing beats actually getting out there and just plain shooting. The sun is less intense and there are fewer bugs to annoy you. A ScotteVest Fleece 5.0 will keep you warm and hold all your accessories. Just 15 minutes spent shooting after work can go a long way to revive ones spirit.

Les Picker is a professional photographer whose work has appeared in National Geographic books and magazines and dozens of other major magazines and newspapers. He travels widely throughout the world.

If you have questions on this or any other photography topic, please send your questions to: lespicker@gmail.com or visit http://www.lesterpickerphoto.com/


Don’t Take the Plunge!

by Lester Picker

Taking a plunge into cool water in summer is good. Taking that plunge with an armful of expensive photo gear? Not so good.

Summertime invites water images, but taking an image while standing in water is fraught with difficulty and danger. While I sometimes have to take images while standing in water, I never, ever take such shots casually. I take prudent precautions. I always weigh the risks carefully before making a decision. Even then, I am constantly reconsidering, looking for a land-based angle, even as I’m pressing the shutter. What I’d like to do here is give some advantages and disadvantages to shooting while in water and then offer some tips and suggestions.

Advantages

You’re in the thick of it. Like recording a forest scene, being right in the water gives you a feel that no other vantage point can quite achieve. There is usually a sense of separation when photographing water scenes from land. The immersive experience brings your viewer right into the element.

Unique perspectives. Often a photographer cannot quite get the right framing unless s/he steps into the water. Leaves are in the way, a branch obstructs the view, or that stream bank is too high. Getting into the water opens up new possibilities.

Terrific foreground elements. By going into the water you can choose the scenes that give you powerful foreground elements, such as river stones or a lone horseshoe crab.

Lester Picker Photography

Disadvantages

Shooting in water can be dangerous. Think currents, waves, riptides, splashing, and slippery rocks. None of them are great for your gear or body.

Water hides a multitude of evils. Water holes can hide deep drop-offs. You’ll be wading one moment and literally with the next step find the water above your head. Not a good thing to happen when you’re holding a fortune in gear. Water can also hide creepy-crawly bad things. In North Carolina I once had a cottonmouth glide by me.
Moving water carries debris. These objects, from barrels to logs, can knock you off your feet or topple your tripod.

Lester Picker Photography

Ten Tips

Be physically fit. That includes having good balance, even practicing balance on a ski board or one of those ball and tray devices you find in a gym. Also, cold water can be a shock to the system, so make sure you are cardiac healthy.

Wear good shoes. I wear either high quality soft-rubber bottomed, knee-high boots for shallow water in creeks or else serious water shoes. If I know I’ll be in knee-deep to waist-deep water, I’ll go with my chest waders.

Keep your feet under you. Balance is everything in water. Currents and wave action can pull your feet from under you. Do not over-step. Take small steps, recover your balance and then take another. Feel the rocks under your feet before putting down all your weight. Move slowly. I call it the water shuffle.

Wear quick-drying clothing. When I know I’ll be shooting in water, I use quick drying fabrics, even down to my underwear.

Use a tripod.
Mount your camera on a tripod and extend the legs far enough to be well above the water line and the splash zone. Use a shutter release, too. Chances are if you’re shooting in a stream the overhead canopy will create shade and require you to use a slower shutter speed anyway. That’s good for smoothing the flow of water, too. At times I will use my tripod legs to test water in front of me for drop-offs.

Use waders wisely. Waders are a photographer’s best friend for water shots. I prefer chest-high waders, but some of my colleagues prefer thigh highs. I never put on my waders until I am literally ready to step into the water. That precaution minimizes the chances of tears in the fabric. Also, be sure to cinch the waist belt on your chest waders before going into the water. If you accidentally trip and ship water, your waders won’t fill quickly.

Use chest pockets. I move all my accessories- filters, tele-extender, microfiber cloth, etc- out of my pants pockets and into my ScotteVest chest pockets. Do a bend-over test before taking your first step into the water.

Avoid raging water. Swollen streams are no time to wade in. Flash floods can occur in seconds. Swift water plays havoc on balance and will cause camera shake even when your camera is tripod mounted.

Beware muddy bottoms. The most difficult shooting I experience is while stuck in muddy bottoms. Mud tends to suck onto your boots, literally immobilizing you.

Soak in the moment. Above all else, take time to revel in the Zen of what you are doing. When I’m in water capturing a scene I feel connected to the natural order in a very special way. I never take that blessing for granted.

Lester Picker Photography

Les Picker is a professional photographer whose work has appeared in National Geographic books and magazines and dozens of other major magazines and newspapers. He travels widely throughout the world.

If you have questions on this or any other photography topic, please send your questions to: lespicker@gmail.com or visit http://www.lesterpickerphoto.com/


Photographing Safely in Europe (and Elsewhere)

by Lester Picker

Summer is here and those of us in North America are now in full-tilt vacation mode, some of us off to Europe. With the world economy in the doldrums, the reduction in government services (including police protection) and the ability to sell stolen equipment on the Internet, property crimes have skyrocketed there. So, I thought I’d discuss how to protect your camera gear (and your health and life) from the rash of thefts in Europe.

The truth is that these crimes are also occurring in Africa, Asia and the Americas. But Europe maintains published records. Not so other places in the world, so it’s hard to know just how bad the problem is elsewhere.

In short order this past year the following incidents have been reported by colleagues of mine. One had a camera and lens stolen from his hotel, one from a cafeteria table as he was eating, and another had a camera and lens ripped off his shoulder in such a way that it sent him sprawling, injuring his arm and head.

I believe proper planning will go a long way to minimizing the chances that you‘ll end up being a victim. As a seasoned traveler, like most of you ScotteVest loyalists, and a professional photojournalist, here are my ‘lucky seven’ safety travel tips to protect your valuable photo investment. Please feel free to write in and suggest your own safety secrets.

Lester Picker Photography
Big Ben, London

1. Research

Before I leave home on assignment I thoroughly research the areas I will visit. I check the U.S. State Department’s website (http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_4965.html)
 or  f you’re in Canada try: Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (http://www.voyage.gc.ca/countries_pays/menu-eng.asp) for alerts in every area I plan to visit. I also check Trip Advisor (www.tripadvisor.com) for recent incident reports, as well as do a Google search for the city name combined with “crime,” “safety issues,” and other descriptors. You should also brush up on local scams, such as the cut-the-camera-strap-and-run, motorcycle-pull-and-drive, cute-little-kids scam, and bag-lady-on-bus scam or whatever the latest ones happen to be. Don’t leave your camera on a table, chair or counter, even for a second. Use a camera strap reinforced with wire.

2. Insure and take a checklist

Make sure your equipment is insured and updated. I always keep an updated list of my photo equipment, serial numbers and copy of my receipts with me both in hard copy and on my iPod or iPhone, in case I have to file a theft report with local police and my insurer.

3. No designer labels or ‘photo’ vests

I’m not sure why people do this, but camera bags advertising Nikon, Canon and other high-end brands are neon signs to would-be thieves. Use a bag without the designer name or cut off the one that’s on it. I no longer wear traditional photo vests in foreign urban areas. Instead I’ve switched to my various products from ScotteVest (www.scottevest.com) which feature hidden inside pockets. Disclosure: Although I’m a monthly photography columnist for ScotteVest, I’m not paid to endorse their products. I truly use and love them!

Lester Picker Photography
Boutique Hotel, Cannes, France

4. Airport security

How do you safeguard from theft those camera accessories that you might need to store in your checked bags? I use PacSafe products (www.pacsafe.com), which are lined with slashproof Exomesh titanium and also come with a long wire and lock. I put my camera accessories into the PacSafe bag(s) and lock them to the interior rollbar. Since I’ve used these bags I’ve not had a single theft from my luggage (I have had six previous checked luggage theft incidents all over the world).

5. Hotel security

Always lock your photo equipment in your hotel safe, even if out of your room for a few minutes. If the hotel does not have a safe or you have too much equipment to fit into the typically micro-sized safes, invest in a PacSafe 140 or PacSafe 85. These titanium mesh bags fit over your luggage and then you secure the luggage and bag with the provided wire and lock to any solid surface. Hotel room tip: I advise against securing a bag to the bed frame, since frames can be easily disassembled, or to the leg of a desk, which can be quickly sawed or broken. Instead, use your PacSafe wire and lock to wrap around the toilet bowl. By my reckoning, any thief who goes through the trouble of turning off the water supply, unhooking the toilet tank from the bowl and making off with my luggage is a deserving thief, indeed.

6. Distribute your memory cards

As a pro I’m paranoid about this, but then again I have to come home with the goods. Whether pro or amateur, make backup copies of your memory cards and distribute them separate from your camera equipment. It’s one thing to lose your camera. It’s another thing to lose vacation memories. Buy a cheap portable backup drive for less than $100, back up to your laptop each night, or upload to a favorite photo-sharing site (see my blog on backing up your images: http://blog.lesterpickerphoto.com/2009/06/02/backing-up-your-digital-images/).

Lester Picker Photography
Balcony Shadows, Nice, France

7. Don’t be heroic

This is injury- or life-saving advice. If thieves confront you, remember that your equipment is not worth injury or death. Give it up and file a police report immediately, then contact your insurer.

Les Picker is a professional photographer whose work has appeared in National Geographic books and magazines and dozens of other major magazines and newspapers. He travels widely throughout the world.

If you have questions on this or any other photography topic, please send your questions to: lespicker@gmail.com or visit http://www.lesterpickerphoto.com/


The Traveler’s Photo Kit

By Lester Picker

I recently received a letter from a ScotteVest customer. I’m sharing it here, because I think the writer raises a question that many ScotteVest customers face when traveling. First, here’s the letter:

Dear Les:

I am a retired superintendent of schools. Because of my work in international education I have been able to travel extensively to several different parts of the world. I have taken many snapshots but not too many photographs.   Sometimes I get lucky and a solid photo emerges.  I have taken classes and my skills have improved to some degree. This summer I am taking a workshop in composition. Admittedly I still have long way to go to reach the level where I can call myself an enthusiastic amateur photographer. Thus my question:

I will be traveling to Alaska this fall for about fifteen days, roughly divided between land and sea. The dilemma for me always arises what should I take with me. I own an Olympus E 5 DSLR with a complement of lenses. My thought was to take my 24-120 F 2.8 lens (which is the lens I use most often); a teleconverter (2x); a wide-angle lens 14-28. I would also take some filters (neutral density, polarizer) and either a monopod or tripod. I am trying to balance weight with necessity. 

Would you have any other suggestions or thoughts?

I should note that I enjoyed reading your article(s) in the Scott E Vest materials. I bought a windbreaker and expedition jacket for the trip and lo and behold there were your articles. As a former English instructor I compliment you on writing clearly and succinctly.... mercifully devoid of technobabble. Certainly nomenclature is important but I don't want to be drowned in it... at least not all at once.

I very much appreciate that you give the opportunity to ask questions related to photography.  I look forward to your response.

Harry J.

Obviously, Harry is actively pursuing his passion for photography in a thoughtful way, with reading and courses/workshops, so my hat is off to him. I believe that out-in-the-field workshops are critically important, since you get to interact with other passionate photographers and as a bonus receive one-on-one instruction. 

Most travelers face the dilemma of balancing fantasy with reality. Sure, we’d love to take along an assistant who carries a backpack of equipment, in addition to our own, but the reality is we just can’t lug all that stuff around and still have an enjoyable vacation. To make matters worse, airline fees for extra baggage have become absurd. I recently paid $120 on American Airlines for two small extra camera equipment bags.

If you are happy with images from your point-and-shoot, terrific! PAS cameras are small and lightweight and some, like the Canon G12, deliver incredibly good images.

In Harry’s case, as well as for others of you who use a DSLR system, a 24-120mm lens is really ideal and should end up being your go-to lens. It is highly versatile and easy for travel. The f2.8 designation means that the lens allows in a lot of light and is ideal for a medium telephoto, but even an f3.5 can produce wonderful images for most amateurs. Another wonderful travel lens is the 24-70mm zoom.

Always try to shoot in your native ISO, which today is usually ISO 200. In low light situations, you shouldn’t be afraid to boost your ISO to 400-800 as needed (but I would try not to go above that). ISO 800 will allow you to capture a large percentage of low-light images with an f2.8 lens. Going above ISO 800 will increase the ‘noise’ level in the image, meaning that the shadow areas will appear grainy, especially if you enlarge the image.

I personally dislike 2x teleconverters because they typically cause softening around the edges of the image. I much prefer a 1.4x or 1.7x teleconverter. For those of you new to DSLRs, these teleconverters, when added to the system between the lens and the camera body, increases the zoom factor by 40% or 70%, respectively.

A 14-28mm wide-angle lens is another must-have lens for travel to locales with magnificent views. You'll be glad to have one when you see some of those incredible grand landscapes in the Grand Canyon, or Yukon’s Arctic Circle region, for example.

Lester Picker Photography

Lester Picker Photography

I usually suggest that, unless it is overcast or raining, you keep a polarizer on the front of your lens most of the time when you shoot outdoors during daylight hours. The polarizer will make the colors in the scene a bit more saturated and will allow the clouds to ‘pop’ on blue sky days.

Lester Picker Photography

What surprises most people is that I strongly suggest using a tripod if you will be taking landscape images, assuming you want tack-sharp images that can be printed in larger sizes. I also think that a monopod is useful if you plan to shoot wildlife. I use a monopod or tripod for perhaps 80-90% of my images (see my previous ScotteVest blog on tripods).

When you travel, please remember to carry lots of extra batteries, especially if you’re traveling in winter, since cold weather will drain your batteries quickly. Keep the spares close to your body and swap as needed. Also take many, many storage cards and try not to reuse them while traveling. They serve as a good backup. Speaking of backups, I believe that a portable backup drive is essential for travelers. Download your images every day or two. They are inexpensive (less than $100) and can prevent your vacation from becoming a photo disaster. If you want to know more about backing up while you are traveling, check out a blog I wrote on the topic: http://blog.lesterpickerphoto.com/2009/06/02/backing-up-your-digital-images/.

A squeeze blower, dust brush and lens cloth weigh almost nothing, but are also important to have with you. 

I recommend that an amateur minimize equipment and instead focus on composition and being in the moment with the scenery. But you need to also be safe. I recommend a good, tamper-resistant backpack or camera bag, preferably not one with a shout-out-loud Nikon, Canon or other high-end label on the outside. All of the equipment mentioned above, except for the tripod, should be able to fit into that bag.

One final thing; do yourself a favor and buy a ScotteVest product for your outerwear. If you’re reading this you probably already own one. I do not make a dime from ScotteVest products, and before I even became their photo columnist I used and loved their products. I once got out of paying a $50 overweight baggage fee on Air Canada by offloading 20 pounds of photo gear (no exaggeration) into my vest pockets! The dragon lady behind the counter had to lift her jaw back in place when I was done. 

So, have great summer, travel safely and share some of your photos with us when you return. And, here’s wishing you good shooting, Harry.

If you have questions on this or any other photography topic, please send your questions to: lespicker@gmail.com or visit http://www.lesterpickerphoto.com/


Extracting Value From a Lousy Scene

By Lester Picker

Summer is almost here, so what do you do if the weather turns out to be as lousy as this spring has been here in Maryland, where I live? You go on a well-earned vacation, camera(s) in hand, only to confront a series of gray, dreary days. Bad enough the vacation itself is in tatters, but no photos, too? Talk about adding insult to (financial) injury!

Of course, every photographer loves sunny days with lots of blue sky and clouds. But, what do you do when it’s actively raining or, worse yet, the sky is a featureless, dull gray, the proverbial kiss of death for photographers. Even dark, angry clouds are great for dramatic impact, so no complaints from this photographer when the weather threatens. But those dull, lifeless skies are the nemesis of the hardworking pro or amateur.

Extraction Shots

The thing to do in that case is to extract images from the background and simply exclude that dull sky, which is the equivalent of making lemonade from lemons. In fact, plant and flower images often are best under gray skies, since the lighting is even and you don’t get harsh shadows or hotspots on the bright areas of flowers.

If you have a flower or tree with great colors- especially after a rain when raindrops are still visible on the petals- you can work with the scene and get very nice images. In this shot, I was hiking in the mountains near Skagway, Alaska on a miserable, rainy Fall day. During a brief lull in the rain I spotted this flower and quickly snapped it, one of the few shots I was able to get that day. I think it’s a solid image, so at least the entire day wasn’t photographically wasted.

Lester Picker Photography

Extracting Urban Scenes

Ditto with urban scenes on yucky days, where you need to discipline yourself to take tight shots that give you a sense of place without including the sky. I had only two days in Christchurch, New Zealand and again the weather was terrible. I knew I couldn’t get the images I had planned, such as the cathedral against a blue sky with clouds. Nor could I get some of the Botanical Garden images I had planned. So, I changed my focus to extract shots of the subject against a contextual background without including the sky. These two images give you an idea of what I’m talking about, both taken in Christchurch, at the cathedral of the same name before their devastating earthquake that occurred only a few months later.

Lester Picker Photography

Lester Picker Photography

Forest Extraction Images

Here are some other examples. You can also isolate elements of a forest by using a telephoto and focusing on a specific tree or branch that has great color or an unusual shape. In this next image I was on a boat in Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand on another miserable day. I would have loved to land on a solid shoreline to photograph the scene with my tripod so it would be tack sharp and I could include the foggy, misty sky, but that wasn’t possible. So I went with the flow (and rocking of the boat) and upped the ISO to 800. The higher ISO allowed me to use a faster shutter speed to make up for the boat’s motion. That allowed me to extract trees from the background. I liked this shot for the compositional elements of the way the tree filled the frame and seems to flow through it, but it wasn’t tack sharp, usually a fatal flaw that forces me to press the Delete key. However, in this case I decided to have fun with it and I processed the image with a soft glow filter using Nik Software, something I rarely do, but I’m not apologizing for it. For me it works although, as always, I welcome your reaction and critique, which you can leave as a comment at the end of this blog.

Lester Picker Photography

One final example, this one rendered in black and white. I was hiking in the woods of Canada’s legendary Yukon Territory (and, yes, I had my bear spray hanging from my photo vest!). It was another miserable day. I came upon this old wreck of a pickup and I just knew that it would render well in B&W considering the even lighting caused by the low-lying clouds. I focused close, eliminating the raunchy sky.

Lester Picker Photography

So, until the next blog, don’t get discouraged by bad weather days. Use extraction to create terrific images you will enjoy for years.

If you have questions on this or any other photography topic, please send your questions to: lespicker@gmail.com or visit http://www.lesterpickerphoto.com/


Foreground for Better Pictures

by Lester Picker

ScotteVest fans are travelers and you are undoubtedly going to shoot landscapes at some point on your journeys. Or, with spring and summer right on our doorstep, possibly shots of people at local markets. One of the most effective means of adding interest and impact is to landscape and market images is to include a foreground element. Yet, for some reason, few people do it.

The Easy Way Out

It’s easy to lose sight of what makes a good image great when faced with a beautiful scene on a lovely, sun-and-clouds day. It’s tempting to just point your camera, zoom back to wide angle, maybe screw on a polarizing filter, and snap away. Yes, chances are it will be a nice shot, but is it the very best image you can create?

As you view my images that I use as examples in this blog, see if you feel the foreground elements help (or not) the overall presentation.

Lester Picker Photography
Great Ocean Road, Australia

How Foreground Helps

Foreground helps bring scale and perspective to a scene. It can functionally help by drawing the viewer’s eye into a scene. It can create visual interest by adding texture, an interesting form, or a looming presence. In a market scene, it can place the subject in the context of the market.

In the above scene, I lowered my reference point in an attempt to use the foreground to draw the viewer’s eyes to the ocean and sky. Similarly with the image below. I stood in the stream and lowered my vantage point to make the rock loom large and point the viewer’s eyes to the little waterfall.

Lester Picker Photography
Falling Branch State Park, Maryland, USA

The first thing with using strong foreground elements is to decide how you want to place them in the overall composition. In most cases I find that setting the foreground object(s) off-center helps. You want the viewer’s eye to move from foreground to background and if the foreground element is smack-dab in the middle of the frame it can act as a barrier, hindering the eye’s movement through the frame. Placing it ? of the way into the frame (known as The Rule of Thirds) will lead the viewer’s eyes naturally into the background. Here I used the highlights in the seaweed to allow the eye to roam from there to the sky and toward the silhouetted rock on the right.

Lester Picker Photography
Martyr Bay, Australia

In the next scene, I used a stronger foreground to both anchor the image at the bottom, but also to frame it on the left so that the viewer is lead to the ocean and the early morning sky on the right, as well as the small tide pool that so nicely reflects the sky.

Lester Picker Photography
Great Ocean Road, Australia

This Hawaiian scene was just ‘okay,’ but the tree alone against the ocean just didn’t do it for me. When I backed up, I saw this small rock thrown into deep shadow and I knew I wanted it as a foreground element.

Lester Picker Photography
West Maui, Hawaii

Using Depth of Field

Next you need to make a decision on how ‘focal’ the foreground will be in the overall scene. By that I mean, you need to decide on depth of field (DOF). Do you want to throw the background into soft focus, or do you want to have foreground and background all in sharp focus? This question raises the most difficult series of technical challenges to the photographer and here’s why.

For most of my landscapes, I like to have sharp focus throughout the scene, front to back, side to side. That’s just my general preference, although I will alter that for special scenes. To get that front-to-back focus, using a wide-angle lens, I would need to use an aperture opening of f16 or f22.

Whatever equipment you use, a point-and-shoot or a DSLR, to properly use foreground elements, you really need to use a tripod. I explain this in detail in a previous ScotteVest blog. To include strong foreground elements you have to compose the scene properly, critically focus on the foreground object(s) and then stop down (reduce the aperture opening of) your lens. Reducing the aperture means you have to increase the exposure time. Now, try doing all that while hand-holding a camera, especially a point-and-shoot that you’re holding away from your body so you can see the screen! The blurry results will make all your efforts wasted.

Then again, there are times when it all comes together for the photographer, as happened to me on this sunset in Kahana, Maui, Hawaii. I had come back to this same spot four sunsets in a row until I finally got this scene. The sunset alone would have been lovely, as attested to by perhaps a dozen or more tourists who were on the sandy beach to the right of where I took this image. They probably thought I was nuts, climbing down from a parking area to these rocks to set up my tripod. I set my camera for a long, 20-second exposure, allowing the ebb and flow of the tide to soften the water. But I truly feel it is the rocks in the foreground that make the shot. For me, anyway, it was a perfect night.

Lester Picker Photography
Maui, Hawaii

Finally, foreground works for people, too. The next image is one of my favorites. I took it while in Otavalo, Ecuador. I saw this woman sitting in her stall, selling bananas and I knew I just had to get the image. In other circumstances, I might put a person in the foreground and show their environment in the background.

Lester Picker Photography

So, by all means experiment with strong foreground elements in your images. You might just come up with some satisfying and creative images. And, if you do, send them along to us here at ScotteVest to share with fellow travelers.

If you have questions on this or any other photography topic, please send your questions to: lespicker@gmail.com or visit http://www.lesterpickerphoto.com/


Why You Need a Tripod

by Lester Picker

Recently I was contributing to a forum when a question came up about tripods. Specifically, the writer wanted to know whether to bring an additional lens along when he hikes the Grand Canyon or leave it home so he could instead carry his tripod. Further, if he were to bring a tripod, he was seeking input on which lightweight one to get

Most people who responded suggested leaving the tripod home due to its weight and bulk. Two experienced photographers suggested the man bring a tripod and even offered suggestions on which lightweight model to buy. While I agree with the two advanced photographers, my slant on tripods is slightly different and I’d like to share it with you here in hopes that it will improve your travel images.

Lester Picker Photography

To my way of thinking, if weight is an issue there is no real point in squeezing in another lens into your bag or backpack, no matter how sharp and wonderful it is, if you don’t have a stable platform on which to place it. If your goal is simply a quick snapshot, then by all means forget the tripod. Then again, please don’t show me 50 images and excuse each one’s blurriness.

When shooting landscapes or wildlife, and if you are looking for magazine-quality images, you simply have to use a tripod to frame the scene properly and eliminate camera shake. You may not think so, but adding a tripod can make the difference between a perfect image and a so-so one, between crystal clear and sharp and a fuzzy, headache-inducing experience.

Lester Picker Photography

With the kind of shooting that I do, namely landscapes and nature scenes, I want extreme depth of field, meaning lots of stuff in focus, from foreground to background. I may also use a filter or two. That translates to less light getting to the sensor and correspondingly longer exposure times, which in turn does not lend itself to hand-held shooting.

In the accompanying photo, for example, I waited six hours in miserable cold and rain to capture this shot of iconic Moraine Lake in the Canadian Rockies. The late Fall day was overcast, until the moment of this picture. I literally had only a few minutes to capture this scene before the clouds closed again and it started snowing with a vengeance. Without a tripod I could not have captured this image. And, yes, the water is really, really that color!

Lester Picker Photography

Look, I am a 55+ photographer and I lug a 30-pound backpack on mountain hikes. I also have a bad back (probably from carrying a 30-pound backpack!). But I’d never leave my big tripod (Gitzo 3541 and RRS BH-55 ball head) home. I’d rather leave behind a lens or two, and guarantee that I’ll have tack-sharp images, suitable for my editors or even for showing to friends. Of course, I’m assuming that the tripod is paired with a cable or electronic release, further minimizing camera shake. Even basic point-and-shoot cameras allow you to mount your camera to a tripod.

Moving one step further, I choose to shlep a regular (carbon-fiber) tripod with me rather than a lightweight model for the simple reason that a tripod’s effectiveness as a stable platform is directly proportional to its total mass. I suppose that someone could argue that point with me until s/he is blue in the face, but that still doesn’t change the laws of physics. One way to try to minimize that problem is to hang a weight (like your backpack, for example) from the tripod’s center column, which adds mass and subsequently reduces vibrations, but that would, of course, work even better with a heavier tripod, right?

To be clear, I’m not saying that you should rush out and buy some big, bulky, expensive tripod, although the fact is that carbon-fiber tripods are a lot lighter than their metal predecessors and kinder on the hands in cold weather. If the choice is between a lightweight backpacking tripod or none at all, I’d take the tripod. In fact, I’ve used a table-top tripod on occasion and it fits very nicely, thank you, in the back pocket of my ScotteVest jackets. The Joby Gorillapods are another great tripod solution and they will fit in at least 2 or 3 different pockets of virtually any ScotteVest product. I easily carry one in my Expedition jacket.

Lester Picker Photography

One final thought. I do a lot of travel photography for magazines and newspapers. Travel photography is not just about landscapes, but even more about people. Most of my people shots, probably 90%, are done without a tripod and I’m sure the same is true for you. But every so often I do use a tripod and telephoto lens to crisply isolate a person. In those cases I usually use a wide-open aperture to throw the background out of focus. Of course, whether hand-held or tripod-mounted, I always ask for permission to use someone’s image in my work. If you plan to use it for your personal use, you are not legally required to do so, but it’s always a nice courtesy.

So, if you are able to carry a tripod, I suggest a good, rugged one. It will literally last a lifetime and it will markedly improve your photography by giving you clear, sharp images.

Lester Picker Photography

If you have questions about tripods, or any other photography topic, please send your questions to: lespicker@gmail.com


Going with the Flow

by Lester Picker

Going With The Flow

I just returned from a month-long series of assignments in Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia and New Zealand. I left with all sorts of photo plans, places I wanted to visit, and images I wanted to add to my portfolio. But, as the saying goes: “Men plan and God laughs,” and so I faced 28 out of 32 days of rain and gray, featureless skies. But, I had to come home with usable images of the Australian coast in all its various moods for the publications I shoot for, which leads to this month’s SeV column.

Flowing Water

I’m often asked by amateur photographers how I get the water in my images to look so ‘soft’ and inviting. Whether it’s a tumbling waterfall or the rhythm of wave and tide along a coastline, you can capture its mood in many different ways, depending on how you choose to photograph it.

Take the following photograph as an example. I could have shot it as most people would; just aim and shoot. The image would have been nice, but hardly artistic. If you want to interpret the scene with a smooth flow of water, then you have to increase the length of time that your shutter stays open, allowing your camera’s sensor time to record the plummeting water as a smooth sheet.

Lester Picker Photography

As of this writing, the only way to accomplish that is by using a tripod. If you use a point-and-shoot, attach your camera to a small, portable tripod that you carry in one of your SeV pockets, like a Joby Gorillapod (http://joby.com/gorillapod), and you’re in business. Now you can keep the shutter open for as long as needed without camera shake (please also use a shutter release cable, available for most cameras for less than $20).

If You Have a Point-and-Shoot…

Switch to Manual

With a Point-and-Shoot (PAS) you’ll need to switch your camera to Manual mode in order to keep the diaphragm open long enough to record the water properly. It may take several trial-and-error attempts but, hey, with digital it doesn’t matter. I recommend trying this first at home with some running water from your kitchen sink if it has a shower option (collect the water in a pot and use it to water your plants!).

First take a photo as you normally would. See how the water seems ‘frozen’ and you see the water as individual streams? Now switch to Manual and start with a 3 second exposure, increasing from there until you get the smooth effect you want. Each PAS has its own method for getting to Manual mode and allowing you to keep the shutter open. However, some lower priced PASs do not have this feature.

While in Manual mode, see if you are able to fiddle with the ISO setting. The ISO tells the sensor how sensitive it should be to light. What you want here is the lowest possible ISO your camera has to offer, something around 100 or lower. Brace yourself… this may require you to read your instruction manual.

While still in Manual, see if your camera allows you to control the f-stop. Experiment with 5.6, 8 or 11 until the camera allows you to keep that shutter open for 3 or more seconds. If it does, you will see those streams flowing smoothly together. You can improve your chances for success if you use a filter (pros always carry these in their bags), which reduces the amount of light coming into the camera.

Doing It Like a Pro

There is something called a neutral density filter that you can buy online or at any good camera store. These filters are made of high quality resins, so you don’t have to worry about glass breaking, but you should protect them from scratches.

Neutral density (ND) filters reduce the amount of light entering the lens, so that the shutter must remain open longer to properly expose the scene. ND filters do not affect color at all. For this technique, however, make certain you do not accidentally buy a graduated neutral density filter.

When your camera is solidly mounted on the tripod and all your settings the same as above, first take a photo without the ND filter. Then place the filter right in front of the lens and snap the shutter again. You’ll notice right away that the camera takes slightly longer for the shutter to open and close. Now compare the two images. Voila! Smooth flowing water!

ND filters come in different strengths. I recommend you start with a 4-stop filter. You can buy them from any good camera store or online. The cost varies from $25 to more than $100, depending on quality.

If You Shoot With a DSLR…

If you are shooting with a DSLR, the same basic suggestions apply, but you will have more options that you can control. I recommend you shoot in Aperture priority mode. Set the aperture to f11 to start and set your ISO as low as possible. Fasten your camera to your tripod, attach a cable release and experiment away. Do yourself a favor; if you are shooting with a good DSLR, invest in a good tripod and a good ND filter (try: www.singh-ray.com).

Lester Picker Photography

I shot the following images at sunset at Martyr Bay, near Port Campbell, on my recent Australia trip. I used the same basic principles you just read, in some cases keeping the shutter open for up to 25 seconds. In this case I’m photographing ocean water, but the beauty of this technique is that it works in any situation with moving water.

Lester Picker Photography

So, next time you’re on vacation, impress the folks around you. Set up your waterfall shot with authority and shoot away. You’ll impress your friends and relatives even more with your resulting images when you get home!

Lester Picker Photography

 


Want Great Travel Photos? Shoot Early & Late

by Lester Picker

I'm often asked how I get such saturated colors in some of my photos. "Hey, you added those colors in Photoshop, didn't you?" Wink, wink.

Lester Picker Photography

Well, my ScotteVest blog friends, those colors come from something called sunrise. Pure, natural, 100% organic sunrise. Pros typically get up before sunrise, trek to their preferred location, set up their equipment, pray that it doesn’t rain and then spend the next two hours shooting like a maniac. The same is true for sunset shots, only in reverse. You’d better be prepared for walking back to your car in the dark while goblins go bump in the night.

In fact, photographers call the two hours after sunrise and before sunset the ‘magic hours.’ From the perspective of physics that makes sense. When the sun is nearly at the horizon light penetrates considerably more atmosphere than it does at noon. That slows light down, and slower light bends it toward the red end of the visible light spectrum. We humans have a proclivity for reddish colors. They seem ‘warmer’ and more endorphin-inducing to our brains.

But, the fact is you don’t have to get up before sunrise or stay out until dark to improve your travel photos. Just getting up early, or staying out a bit longer at dusk taking photos will help. Early-late light also has other properties that tend to transform snapshots into eye-candy. Let’s see why.

Depth and Texture. When the sun is low to the horizon it creates longer shadows. That adds depth and texture to images, especially to landscapes. That alone adds punch to even mediocre images.

Lester Picker Photography

Get Wild. Sunrise and sunset are appealing to photographers because they are typically the hours when wildlife is most active, so your chances of capturing that perfect image of a fox or a bear or any manner of feathered creatures rise exponentially.

Lester Picker Photography

People Perfect. If you’re traveling abroad, the hours just after sunrise are terrific for photographing local markets. There is a lot of hustle and bustle during that period, so with a medium telephoto lens you can shoot people setting up their stalls and arranging their exotic wares. Let them know you are there to record their interesting work. If you intend to use the images for commercial publication, be sure to get model releases from the people you photograph, if they are recognizable in the photo. The early morning sun will also warm their faces nicely.

Lester Picker Photography

Sunset is an equally magical time to shoot, although you will most definitely run into more photographers at sunset than at sunrise. Sometimes the fight for photographic territory can be intense at sunset in places like the South Rim of the Grand Canyon or Australia’s Great Ocean Drive.

In terms of equipment, try to use a tripod for sunrise/sunset. Here’s why; if you’re shooting landscapes you’ll want maximum depth-of-field (f 8, 11, 16 or 22), but that also slows the shutter speed. It’s hard to hand-hold a camera below 1/25 of a second and get sharp images. Sunrises/sunsets usually require those slower speeds. If you use a tripod, be sure to use a cable release and you are pretty well set. That eliminates the shaking from your finger pressing the shutter release. Of course, even with the simplest cameras you could mount it on a tripod, set it on timer and it will accomplish the same vibration reduction as a cable release. If your camera allows you to fiddle with the ISO, try keeping it at 200 or below for best landscape results.

Lester Picker Photography

ISO 400-800 would work best in a marketplace, where your goal is to capture people in action. You’ll probably be hand-holding your camera. Remember to open your aperture to 2.8, 4 or 5.6 to isolate your subject from the background.

Speaking of tripods, a nifty alternative to lugging a 10-pound monster is using a Joby Gorillapod. This cool, tiny tripod can stand on a rock, wrap around a tree branch or a fence post. Best of all it’ll easily slip into one of your ScotteVest pockets and works great with point-and-shoot cameras.

So, on your next travel adventure try getting up early and you’ll be amazed at what wonderful images you’ll soon be showing your friends!


Photographing People: Ten Tips for Images With Impact

by Lester Picker

ScotteVest customers are some of the most active travelers on the planet. Why else buy rugged, well-designed clothes with umpteen strategically located pockets, right?

As a ScotteVest customer myself— and a professional photojournalist— I’m often asked how to capture the essence of the cultures we visit, that is, their people. “How do you do it? Do you have any tips?” Well, yes, I do have some tips on photographing people and here they are:

1. Get Permission

It’s a matter of civility, pure and simple, to ask for permission to photograph. Permission doesn’t have to be a signed release form if the image will not be published. It can be a gesture— pointing to your camera and to the subject and shrugging your shoulders. In Muslim countries in particular, photographing women without permission can get you in serious trouble. At the very least you owe it to your subject to give her a chance to cover her face.

Lester Picker Photography

2. Get a Picture, Give a Print

Send a print to the subject once you get home or else bring one with you on your next visit to the country.

3. Be patient

Often it is only after 10 minutes of shooting that the subject relaxes enough for that unguarded, classic shot.

4. Get to Know Your Subject

Before you hoist your camera, ask about the craft your subject might be exhibiting. Ask about her family; it’s the universal glue that binds us.

Lester Picker Photography

5. Shoot Early

Shoot early in the morning, when merchants set up their market stalls, when farmers hoist their produce from cart to table, when kids scurry to help their parents or scurry away from helping them.

6. Tell a Story

Shooting ‘tight’ conveys emotion and creates dramatic impact. You do not need the entire person’s body in the image, at times not even the entire face. A child’s face from chin to forehead, lips streaked in chocolate, can be a prizewinner.

7. Use Flash

At certain times of the day light is harsh and creates deep shadows. Use flash to gently fill in those shadows.

Lester Picker Photography

8. Laugh…a Lot

That frame of mind alone will loosen up your subjects and help them be more cooperative.

9. Move Around

Talk to your subjects and shoot from different angles. Digital is wonderful. Did the person blink? Keep shooting. Was the background distracting? Move and keep shooting.

10. Shoot Wide Open

If the person is the focus of your image, open up the aperture to its maximum (f2.0, 2.8, 3.5 or 4.0). That will blur the background and cause your subject to pop off the frame.

Always remember that you are a good-will ambassador. Act accordingly.

Lester Picker Photography

Lester Picker is a professional photojournalist whose work has appeared in National Geographic publications, Forbes, Better Homes & Gardens, Oceans, and dozens of other publications and websites. He welcomes questions here or at his blog at: http://blog.lesterpickerphoto.com.