Top ten things not to forget on a trip

We all usually try to travel light, but when you succeed, do you feel a little nervous? I do. If I can lift my suitcase without grunting, I’m fairly certain I’ve forgotten something. Here’s a list of the Top ten things not to forget on a trip — hopefully both you and I can remember to check it next time we’re about to head out of town!

1. Cell Phone Charger.
They’ve started carrying universal chargers (with multiple heads) at places like Walgreens, but that’s $15 to $20 you really shouldn’t have to spend.

2. Program Your Phone. Do you have the airline and hotel phone numbers in your phone? You should. It’s also a good idea to list your destination’s number for taxis, and someone with ICE (In Case of Emergency) before their name.

3. Passport and Tickets or Itinerary. You need some form of photo ID to travel even domestically, so don’t forget it. The passport is obviously important for foreign travel, but make sure it isn’t about to expire; many countries won’t let you in with under six months left. Also, even if you booked all your travel online, customs will sometimes ask to see your full itinerary, so bring tickets or print it all out.
4. Socks and Accessories. We can usually remember our socks and underwear, but when you’re heading somewhere warm, you probably throw your athletic shoes in the bag for touristy hikes and/or exercising; don’t forget the socks — or face the stinky consequences. There are other unisex items we often miss: belts, hats and scarves, and a good pair of walking or evening shoes. Men, did you remember your tie? Your cufflinks? Women, your jewelry? Hairbands? Bobby pins? Small purse?

5. A Book. Heaven forbid you should be trapped on a long flight with nothing to read but SkyMall or the newspaper. Don’t forget your book, or at least bring a laptop and a dvd.

6. Meds and Potions. Now that you have to pack your lotions and creams and such separately from the rest of your carry-on, it’s easy to forget them altogether. Also, don’t forget your medications — not just prescription. I never go anywhere without Advil, just in case. For your handy reference, TSA guidelines are here.

7. Pajamas. Once you painstakingly pick out clothes for every occasion, remember that you have to sleep in something, too.

8. Converters. Going somewhere foreign? Guess where you can use your electronics: Nowhere! Most good hotels will provide you with at least one power adapter, but I like to have more than that; otherwise I’m constantly switching from charging my phone to charging my computer, and once the razor or curling/straightening iron comes into play, it just gets messy.

9. Gifts. This is a big one for the holidays. Don’t forget the presents! Also, if you’re heading somewhere far away, it’s easy to pack a couple simple things from home to give as thank yous, just in case.

10. Camera and Accessories. Forgetting your camera can all-out ruin your fun. What good is taking a vacation without the means to document it? All right, probably some good, but don’t forget your camera. Disposables aren’t the same and you probably don’t want to buy a whole new one out of town. What’s more, don’t forget the battery charger and the memory card. It can be an expensive mistake!

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.

Through the Gadling Lens: The 7 most common questions from new photographers

Last week, I mentioned that i was in New York City on a holiday. Part of the reason we chose New York is because my cousin got married their last weekend. Whenever I’m invited to a wedding, my standard wedding gift is an album of photographs that I take of the event, so as is often the case when I’m a wedding guest, I found myself walking around with my camera and huge 70-200mm lens, snapping photos randomly. Also, as is so often the case when I’m a wedding guest (and, I assumed, because of the scene the large lens makes), many people came up to me asking (a) if I was the official photographer, (b) if I was a photographer in real life, and (c) why they could never get their photographs to look decent. And so this week, I thought I’d share some of the more common questions I received during the weekend, and my answers.

And so, on with the show:
1. Why are my pictures coming out blue/yellow/green?

One of the most common questions I often receive occurs after someone has shot several shots, and the images that result all have a strange hue — often yellow, but sometimes green, or even blue. This problem is usually an easy one to fix, related to the adjustment of the camera’s white balance.

In essence, different sources of light have different qualities. Natural sunlight tends to be the whitest of lights. Incandescent light (from standard lightbulbs) tends to have a yellow hue. Fluorescent light, on the other hand, has a greenish tone. In order to correct for this, check your camera’s manual on how to adjust your white balance — the camera’s ability to adjust for the light illuminating your subject. In other words, if you’re shooting indoors under mostly incandescent light, set your camera’s white balance for shooting under incandescent lightbulbs. If you’re shooting under fluorescent light, ditto. The colour tint problem should go away.

What if your pictures are blue? Well, that’s probably because you left your white balance adjusted for incandescent light, but you’re shooting in natural light. Again, simply adjust your white balance.

2. Why are my photographs so grainy?

Occasionally, I’ll get a question about the graininess of a photograph — the photograph, even though shot in bright light, looks grainy in texture. This is a common mistake, and one, I’m embarrassed to say, I still occasionally make.

This has to do with the ISO setting of your camera. You might remember that the ISO has to do with the number of “light catchers” your camera is employing — the darker the surroundings, the higher the ISO should be. Unfortunately, the downside to upping your ISO is that photographs tend to become more grainy.

To fix this, when shooting in bright light, make sure to lower your ISO as much as possible — if it’s a truly bright, sunny day, you probably don’t need more than 250 ISO, when handholding your camera. If your shooting in darker circumstances, to reduce graininess, you can either (a) keep the ISO low, but use a tripod, to reduce camera shake (see below), or (b) use a flash.

The moral of the story: Always check your ISO before shooting.

3. How do I stop my subjects from getting red eye?

You know the issue: you’re taking what you’re hoping is a stellar portrait of someone, only to have the image return with a demonic red glow in your subject’s eyes. This is because either (a) your subject is possessed, or (b) the light from your flash reflected in your subject’s pupils, causing a red eye effect (and for some reason, this is more common in people with lighter coloured eyes, than darker ones). It’s annoying, but somewhat easily fixable.

To reduce red eye, you can do one of the following:

a) Turn off your flash. Make sure you actually need your flash before you turn it on — it could be that you just need to nudge your ISO setting up a bit (see #2, above).

b) “Bounce” your flash. If you can adjust the direction that your flash points, then point it up, to the side, even behind you — any direction except directly at your subject.

c) Less effective, but still often works: have your subject look slightly away from the lens, and not directly at the camera, when you’re using your flash.

4. I look at other people’s photographs, and they’re always so impressive. Mine are so blah. Why?

Your framing looks great. Your subject looks beautiful. You checked things like ISO, shutter speed, aperture, and they’re all appropriately set. So why does the resulting photograph look so blah, when other photographers can get images that truly captivate.

Chances are it’s all in the post-processing, my friend.

I’ve mentioned before that my views of Photoshop have changed — when I first started shooting, I thought that Photoshop was deceptive, a tool primarily used for making subjects look thinner, or less grey, or remove them from the image altogether. It wasn’t until a kindly camera shop employee taught me that really, Photoshop is just a 21st Century darkroom, and can be used accordingly, to simply enhance what you’ve captured on film. An example:

The following shot was taken straight out of the camera:

A decent enough shot, but not necessarily one I’d write home about.

Now, take a look at it after about 15 seconds of post-processing:

See how much warmer it is? And all I did was (a) sharpen it a little, (b) bump up the contrast a bit, and (c) add a bit of vignetting (i.e., making the outer edges of the image slightly warmer and darker). I didn’t remove any pixels or anything “deceptive” — I just used Photoshop to enhance the image in a way that conveys what I found beautiful about this bloom in real life.

Moral: don’t be afraid of post-camera processing. Photoshop is a common choice, but there are many, many tools out there to process photos, some of them online and free. See this earlier Gadling post for tips, tricks and a few other tools for processing.

And a warning: once you’ve become comfortable with post-processing, however, be careful not to fall into the trap of #5, below:

5. Can’t I just Photoshop it later?

Once you’ve seen the magic of post-camera processing, there’s a danger that you begin to use it as a crutch: you stop checking your white balance on your camera, thinking you can “Photoshop it later,” for example. Or you notice some ugly electric company lines in the background before you take the shot, and think, “oh I’ll just Photoshop them out when I get in front of my computer.”

My advice: fix the issue before you squeeze the shutter. Yes, you can adjust a lot of things during post-camera processing, but in my experience, it’s a lot more work to do it then, and frankly, I’m never as happy with the results as if I’d just ad
dressed the problem in the first place. So, before you squeeze the shutter, note the following:

a) Is the horizon straight? Nothing can ruin a good sunset-over-the-ocean shot like a crooked horizon. Fix it prior to taking the shot, it’ll take a lot less time.

b) Are all the vertical lines (building walls, etc.) vertical?

c) Is there anything cluttering the background that you don’t want? In other words, if there are electrical lines running through the background, or trash, or whatever, then adjust accordingly — you can simply move so that they’re no longer in the frame, or when you get really good, you can even play with your aperture setting, to ensure the background is out of focus — whatever. But fixing it ahead of time will be a lot quicker (and feel less deceptive) than trying to erase pixels on your computer.

6. Why isn’t the focus on my image sharp?

This can be the most frustrating thing about taking a shot — when you upload it onto your computer, the image is out of focus. Just so you know, I’ve been shooting for over 15 years, and this *still* happens to me. There are a couple of causes for this:

a) You’re camera isn’t set on auto-focus. Sometimes this happens — I have a couple of vintage lenses that are fully manual, and I think I’ve focused properly, but it turns out I didn’t. It happens. But if your camera autofocuses, by all means, use it. It’s just one less thing you’ll have to think about.

b) You didn’t focus the shot on the proper subject. Sometimes what you want to do is focus on something that isn’t actually in the centre of your frame — you’re trying to focus on something off-centre, or in the foreground. There are two ways to do this: first, you can read your camera manual to see how to adjust your camera to focus on something off-centre (most SLRs will allow you to change the point of focus pretty easily), or secondly, in some point-and-shoots, you can put what you want to focus on in the centre of the frame, push the shutter release halfway down to get it to focus, and then without lifting your finger, move the subject to the part of the frame you want it to be, and then continue to push the shutter all the way down to take the shot.

The upshot: check your camera’s manual to see how to manipulate the autofocus. But rely on the autofocus.

And now, a caveat: sometimes focus is overrated. Two of my very favourite shots I’ve ever taken were accidents, and completely out of focus:

See? So the moral here is: even when you take a shot that’s out of focus, try to look at it objectively. It might actually be the shot you never realized you wanted.

7. Why can’t I take a decent portrait?

Usually the way to take a decent portrait is to just practice, practice, practice. But a couple of tricks that I use to help enhance my portrait shots:

a) Get in close. One of the biggest mistakes that I see people make is that they don’t get close enough to the subject to really take a lovely portrait. Fill your frame with as much of your subject as your lens will allow. And note that a lens in the range of 85-110mm tends to take the most lovely, magazine-cover-type tight portraits.

And finally, my favourite portrait trick:

b) Shoot a lot of photographs at one time. Often the reason portraits result in less-than-favourable images is because the subject isn’t entirely comfortable with having their shot taken. So one of my favourite tricks is to just take a ton of shots: let the subject pose, and take the shot. Then another. Then another. Then another. Then another. Usually, by this time, your subject will say something like, “Oh my GOSH! HOW MANY ARE YOU TAKING!” and start laughing. At this point, TAKE A FEW MORE. This is when you’ll end up getting the most natural shot.

Works every time.

So I hope the above tips help. As always, if you have any questions, 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.

Through the Gadling Lens: 7 photography exercises for the brand-new photographer

I bought my very first SLR camera about 15 years ago. I knew nothing about photography at the time, so I enlisted the aid of a professional-photographer-friend to come with me to help me choose my camera, and, since I had his attention, teach me a few pointers about photography as well. “You’ll be buying second-hand,” he informed me, “and you will pay nothing less than $500.”


A few days later (and exactly $501 poorer), my friend and I walked out of my local camera store, a 10-year-old Nikon SLR in my shaking hands. “Now what?” I asked.

“Now,” he responded, “we shoot.”

For the next week or so, my friend took me to various sites in and around Houston, and had me burn roll after roll of film. In addition to teaching me the technical basics, he also gave me some exercises so I could learn about form, composition, contrast and colour. What he taught me was invaluable, and I’ve never felt the need to take a photography course as a result.

Recently, I’ve met a lot of people who have just bought their first digital SLR (or received one as a gift), and really don’t know where to begin. So if you happen to be in that boat, I thought I’d share some of my favourite exercises for a bit of inspiration, and practice. Since these days, most people aren’t putting rolls of film in their cameras, instead, I would suggest that you shoot 20 photographs for each exercise — and then, if you like the results, please share them with us in the comments section below.

And so, without further ado, the exercises:
1. Set your camera to black and white, and shoot away.

My photographer friend was adamant that the first roll of film I ran through my camera be black and white film. “That’s the way you’ll really become a photographer,” he said. “Colour can hide a multitude of sins. Once you’re comfortable in black and white, then you can move to colour.”

In many ways, he was right: shooting in black and white can teach your about form and texture and contrast in a way that colour photography really can’t. For example, in the second shot above, you don’t notice the sunset, but you do notice the “texture” of the rippling water, and the shadow created on the ocean’s surface as the sun sets. When you first take your camera out, go ahead and take several shots in black and white mode, and really study the results. You may never shoot in black and white again, but the lessons that you learn will be ones you’ll take with you when composing all of your shots in the future.

2. Once you’ve got black and white down, start focusing on colour.

Once you’re comfortable with shooting in black and white, go ahead and start shooting in colour. But what I would suggest is to choose a colour, and then go out on a photo shoot and try to capture that specific colour in all your shots. For example, if your chosen colour is yellow, shoot as much yellow in as many locations as you can — and notice the different tonal changes, how light can change the hues and how the colour “handles” translucence, or opacity. This exercise can help you to train your eye to really search out colour as the focal point of composition.

3. The 100 paces exercise

This exercise is one I actually read recently online (and for the life of me I can’t find the link, sorry!), but I think it’s a great exercise to inspire creativity when you don’t have a lot of time to travel somewhere fabulous to practice your photography. The premise is as follows: grab your camera, walk 100 paces in any direction, then stop. Take 20 shots of whatever you find at that spot.

The point of this exercise is to force you to look closely at your surroundings, consider various angles and find something unusual about your specific location. I’ve actually done this exercise (two results of which are shown above), and it was a great way to clear away the creativity cobwebs, and look at familiar places in a whole new way.

4. Play with the rule of thirds.

To refresh: the rule of thirds is a general rule of design and photography that states that if you were to divide each dimension of the frame, or viewfinder, into thirds, then to increase visual interest, your subject should line up along one of the lines or axes that you’ve drawn.

So to do this exercise, when you go out for a photoshoot, instead of placing your subject directly in the middle of the frame, offset it slightly, so that the subject roughly lines up along an axes drawn at a third of the frame. Note that this “rule” doesn’t mean that every shot should be taken on thirds (some shots just work better perfectly symmetrically), but it does force you to think about different angles and ways to shoot.

And also, when doing this exercise, don’t forget that you have axes both vertically and horizontally — for example, in the shot of my daughter above, her eyes and mouth line up pretty perfectly on the horizontal axes; conversely, in the bottom image, the tree lines up pretty well on a vertical axes.

5. Tap into your inner photojournalist.

This is a great exercise to do at local festivals or fairs in your town: grab your camera and head out to the site, and start snapping away. But instead of just taking photographs of your travel companions, or your travel companions next to some landmark or a particular street performer, actually compose shots using what you see around you. Notice things like forms and patterns — for example, in the shot of the artist suspended in silks, above, notice how the position of her body mimics the shape of the tree in the background. In the second photo, notice the angry message juxtaposed with the woman flashing the beautiful smile and the peace sign with her fingers. Really look for the story you can capture within the shot.

6. Get close.

In this case, the distance to your subject will be somewhat limited by the focal length of your lens (in both shots, above, I used a macro lens, which lets me get really, really close to the subject), but in my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes that new photographers make is failing to fill the frame with their subject. So I would suggest that a new photographer take her camera out, and for at least 20 shots, fill the entire frame with her subject. Get used to getting close, and really testing how close you can get to your subject without losing the ability to focus. Once you’ve developed that comfort, then you can start backing up, and playing with shots from farther away.

7. Schedule a photoshoot.

Who says photoshoots are just for professional photographers? One of the funnest, most educational things I did when I first started shooting was invite two friends of mine to drive down to the beach with me, so I could practice using my camera — and I was very careful to ensure that they understood that in addition to shooting the beach, I would be taking their photographs as well. We picked a beautiful day, drove down early, and made a day of it — we shot all morning on the beach, grabbed a bite to eat at a local restaurant, and drove back. The result was a beautiful day filled with great memories, coupled with some great shots that they cherish to this day.

Of course, one of the best ways to make sure that you get great shots is for your subjects to feel comfortable with you — and that’s what spending a morning shooting can do — your friends will eventually forget about the camera. But the other, biggest trick about taking a great portrait?

Don’t stop shooting.

Don’t just shoot the posed shots — shoot when one of your friends wanders off to feel the water on her bare feet (as shown in the first shot above). Don’t just shoot the image of your friends holding each other and smiling into the camera — capture the moment when they think the shot is over, and the pull back to smile at each other (as in the second shot). Just shoot, and shoot and shoot — I guarantee you you’ll be thrilled with one of the resulting shots.

With that, grab your cameras, go out there, and practice, practice, practice — and feel free to use the exercises above for inspiration. And please, if you love some of the results, don’t hesitate to upload your images onto the web (Flickr‘s great for that sort of thing), and then, please, share the links in the comments below. I’d love to see what you capture, and read any insights you may have discovered along the way.

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.

Through the Gadling Lens: learning photog lingo

One of the pieces of advice that I seem to find myself giving over and over again to those who are new to photography is about looking at as many photoblogs or Flickr pools as possible — if only to get some inspiration on different angles to try, different processing techniques, or even just want to expect when you finally embark on that long-awaited trip to that faraway land. If you’ve been doing this, you’ll find two things: (a) looking at beautiful images is addictive, and (b) photographers sometimes use some strange words, phrases, abbreviations or lingo to describe what’s going on with a picture, or how they took the shot. So this week, I thought I’d take a moment to define some of the more popular terminology that seems to be showing up on the internet these days — that way, when you upload and describe your own travel photographs, you’ll sound oh-so-in-the-know.

And so, on with the show:

Bokeh. One of the most common comments you’ll often read on Flickr has to do with bokeh. “Nice bokeh,” you’ll read. “How did you get that bokeh?” a viewer will say. I will admit to you that a year ago, I had no idea what people were talking about.

The term bokeh refers to a relatively shallow depth of field — in other words, bokeh appears when a part of an image is in sharp focus, and the rest of the image fades away to a smooth, buttery, out-of-focus blur (see the image above). According to Wikipedia, the term is derived from the Japanese word boke, which means “blurry.” You would be forgiven for not having ever heard the term before, as it’s relatively new — Wikipedia says the term was first published only as recently as 2000. And while, obviously, not every photograph has or requires bokeh, it obviously makes for an interesting shot. To add bokeh to your images, try setting your aperture to a low number — 1.4, say or 2.8 (and if the term “aperture” is a bit foreign to you, click here for a previous post on what aperture is all about).

There are some, however, who use the term bokeh to simply mean “out of focus” — for example, I got some kind and complimentary bokeh comments when I uploaded this shot into my flickr stream:

But I would argue that the above shot doesn’t actually have any bokeh, since there’s no part of that image that is in focus — it’s just a blurry (albeit kind of interesting) image. Greater minds, obviously, might differ.

SOOC. “SOOC” is a commonly-used acronym for “straight out of camera” — in other words, the image you’re looking at (in this case, the woman with the pinkish-purple wig, above) hasn’t been post-camera processed at all — this is how it looked exactly as I downloaded it out of the camera. It is a perfectly acceptable image.

What I think is interesting, however, is that the term “SOOC” is not usually used as a point of comparison between the pre-processed work and the post-processed work. Instead, it’s primarily used to illustrate how perfect an image is without processing at all. And while, certainly, it is possible to take a photograph which, really, is better left unprocessed, please remember that there is no real shame in processing images digitally after downloading: as I mentioned before, all photographers pre-digital-era processed their images, they just did it with chemicals rather than computers.

In other words, don’t let a term like “SOOC” make you afraid to process your image. There’s nothing dishonest about it, if you use post-camera processing to help communicate what you’d like the viewer to notice and receive from your image. For example, in the image above, I was struck by the woman’s bright hair colour, her funky glasses, and the message on her shirt. So with a bit of post-camera processing …

… I help draw the viewer’s eye to those items — but the photograph is no less honest than the original. And if your original really can’t be improved by post-camera processing, then more’s the better.

Rule of Thirds. This refers to a general rule of design and photography that says that the eye tends to find images which are slightly off-kilter more interesting than one that is perfectly symmetrical. For example, in the shot above, I could have taken the picture of my daughter so that she was exactly in the middle of the frame, but theoretically, it’s a more interesting picture because she isn’t. See? It’s pretty much that simple.

Oh, you want the technical explanation?

Okay, then.

The Rule of Thirds, speaking more technically, says that if you were to divide each dimension of the frame, or viewfinder, into thirds, by drawing lines like so:

then to increase visual interest, your subject should line up along one of the lines or axes that you’ve drawn.

Now, obviously, it’s sort of impossible to actually draw lines on your viewfinder; however, the idea is to just ballpark it. And this technique works for more than just portraits. For example, in the following image of a street in St. Ives, what struck me was the little old man walking quietly up the road:

So, you’ll notice that the little old man lies directly along one of the Rule of Thirds axes:

Make sense?

Again, this “Rule of Thirds” doesn’t mean that you have to take every image with your camera in this manner — it’s just something to keep in mind while you’re shooting, to add a little variety to the images you capture.

Through the Viewfinder (or “TtV”). This actually refers to a cool little technique that is currently gaining popularity online — the use of a vintage camera to help capture images that look retro and grainy, and therefore somewhat timeless. Here’s how it works:

The photographer gets her hands on a duaflex, or twin-lens reflex camera — one of those cool box cameras that were popular starting from about the 1960’s — you know the ones, where the photographer holds the camera about waist-high, and looks down into the top of the camera through the viewfinder? They’re lovely little cameras, and can often be purchased on eBay for as little as US$ 25. Once purch
ased (or borrowed), the photographer often creates a tube that fits over the viewfinder, to help block out light and glare. Then, though the open end of the tube, the photographer inserts her digital SLR camera lens into the tube and focuses through the vintage viewfinder — the result is a square format image, which can then be manipulated within Photoshop or other post-camera processing software. The final image often shows the imperfections of the vintage lens, giving a soft, retro feel to the shot (as shown above, or in the Through the Viewfinder pool on Flickr).

Twin-lens reflex camera purists would argue that these cameras are being wasted — that the photographer should just buy the appropriate film and run it through the vintage camera. Still, it’s hard to argue the convenience of digital media, and the ease by which the resulting image can be manipulated. Either way, the result is sort of a fun twist on the type of photography and images you can capture on your travels.

Obviously, there are many more terms which are used by photographers: the traditional terms, as well as the more trendy ones, as shown here. But hopefully this sheds a bit of light on what all those online photographers are talking about — and helps gives you some ideas for how to add a bit of variety to your own travel images going forward.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.
And for more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.