Through the Gadling Lens: Photography tips I learned on my summer vacation

I just got back from a long weekend in Oregon. This was the second year that I joined 13 friends in a beautiful coastal town, where we rented this huge rustic beach house, and spent the entire time resting, relaxing, and generally making art. As it happens, all of us make all or most of our living being creative, and many of us are professional photographers. And even though we all pretty much know our way around a camera, having all of us together resulted in us learning and sharing various tips and tricks to creating cool images. And so, since the experience is particularly fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share with you my very favourite vacation photography ideas that I picked up this week.

On with the show.
1. Wake up early.

Because Oregon’s time zone is two hours earlier than mine here in Houston, while on vacation I found myself waking up earlier than most of the women with whom I was staying at the house. Since I didn’t particularly want to lie still in bed for fear of waking up the other houseguests, I found that the better option was to just go ahead and get up, pull on my wellies and go for a long walk on the beach. And naturally, I took my camera with me.

And this is how I learned my first lesson: every location has a much different personality early in the mornings, before its inhabitants have woken and began their day. In the case of this particular beach, the morning often brought a considerable mist or fog rising off of the ocean, and the light was invariably quite blue and grey. The beach was littered with the ashes of the evening’s bonfires and the remains of sandcastles from the day before, and save for the occasional morning jogger or yoga practitioner, I was the only person on the beach. It was a far cry from the bustle of the kite surfers and horseback riders of the middle of the day, and I relished the solitude and the calm, peaceful, vibe.

So on your next holiday, while it is tempting to sleep in, I’d strongly recommend taking at least one morning and waking up early, just to experience your vacation spot at the start of the day.

2. Use the ground or the sky as a backdrop.

I learned this trick sort of by accident: I was sitting on the ground taking a picture of a baby, when suddenly I noticed a friend of mine watching what was going on above me. The sky was amazingly blue and absolutely clear, and I realized that it made a perfect backdrop for my very fair, blonde friend. So I took the shot.

In the second instance, I was about to take the portrait of a different friend, and she stopped me: “Would you mind taking the shot from above?” she said, sitting on the grass. “I always prefer pictures of myself from that angle.” Since I’m always thrilled to take portraits of someone who have great body self-awareness, I was happy to oblige — and she was right: shooting from above is a great way to get a lovely, doe-eyed look from your subject.

It works particularly well with women and children.

3. Speaking of backdrops, don’t be afraid to get creative.

I was sitting in the house, when through the window I noticed a few of my friends standing on the lawn holding up a giant white sheet. Curious, I got up and went outside.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Prom pictures,” came the response.

The sheet was held so that the low light from the afternoon sun was shining right through it, diffusing the light and creating a lightbox effect. The result was this amazing glow around each subject:

I learned such a valuable lesson here: just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t spend some time capturing creative portraits of your travel companions. Let’s face it: vacations tend to make people relax. What better time to capture their best sides? It was an inspired idea.

4. In addition to shooting in the early morning, shoot during the Golden Hour.

During every sunny day, there comes the time as late afternoon turns into early evening, when the light becomes shockingly golden, making everything and everyone it falls on glow beautifully. The actual time of the Golden Hour obviously varies depending on the time of year; nonetheless, It is really a lovely time to shoot, so be sure to keep an eye out for the changing light, and save some space on that memory card to capture a few images during that time.

5. Finally, break all the rules and shoot into the sun.

I know, I know — they say you should never shoot into the sun. I can’t help it, though: the fact is that you can get some amazing silhouetted shots by shooting into the sun. However, if what you’re looking for are just some great back-lit shots, but you want your subject’s face to be clear, the best thing to do is to again wait until the sun is lower in the sky (but not too low so that it’s dark), and then set your ISO exposure for the light reflecting from your subject’s face (rather than the actual sun). The result is that the light from the sun will be “blown out” (read: almost white) but your subject’s face will be well lit.

So those are my lessons from the weekend: some of which I sort of knew already (like the shooting into the sun, or shooting during the Golden Hour) but I needed to be reminded; others which I had never considered (the fabulous sheet trick comes immediately to mind). I’m definitely taking these tips with me on my next trip. And of course, thanks much to my friends Alex, Ali, Andrea, Jen, Jen, Jen, Tracey and little Anna for letting me take their amazing portraits you see above, as well as sharing their fantastic photography tips with me, since they’re all profe
ssional photographers themselves.

Well, all except little Anna. She’s just sort of a supermodel rockstar, wrapped up in a sweet 6-month-old package.

As always, if you have any questions (or would like to comment on the tips you see here), you can always contact me directly at karenDOTwalrondATweblogsincDOTcom – and I’m happy to address them in upcoming Through the Gadling Lens posts.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.
Through the Gadling Lens can be found every Thursday right here, at 11 a.m. To read more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.