Photography In The Field

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Photography in the Field

This covers the basics of photography in the field. Cataloging of photos is covered separately in Cataloging Photographs in Mediapro.


Equipment issues include: camera, storage cards, storage devices for emptying cards while traveling, tripods, flashes, and good equipment bag.

Digital Cameras

The main decision up front to make in terms of cameras is whether to use "consumer" or "prosumer" cameras. Standard consumer cameras are often small and light, which is ideal for travel and spontaneous photographer. The main drawbacks are that they don't allow interchangeable lens and their picture format is limited to the compressed JPEG format. The JPEG format involves compression so that the image size on the card is smaller, but also the quality of the image is less. For many purposes the image size is perfectly fine, but for publication purposes it may be insufficient.

"Prosumer" cameras will typically allow you to use a variety of camera lens to get close ups, wide angles, and telephoto views. In addition, they allow you to take photos in the RAW format, which is both uncompressed - and thus of higher image quality - and allows for easy post-processing of many aspects of the image.

Memory Cards

Either way, any camera is only useful to the degree that you have storage to save photos. All digital cameras save their photos on removable memory cards which can then be easily inserted into a computer for downloading of photos and reuse of the card for new photos. These memory cards come in different formats, which are generally also a different physical size. You must make sure to purchase the type of card used by your camera. In addition, the cards come in widely varying capacities in terms of how many images can be stored.

When traveling, it is best to buy high capacity cards and buy at least two, so that you can be downloading the contents of one and still be using your camera.

Camera Settings

Each camera has different settings, but there are certain settings that people routinely have problems with.

Date and Time: it is really important the date and time are set correctly. These can become problems when your camera is left without batteries and somehow resets; when you travel across national boundaries and time zones change; or when the time changes for countries that have time changes in the fall or spring.

Quality or Format of Pictures: this is where you set the format and resolution of your pictures. The basic trade off is that the higher resolution gives better pictures but also larger file sizes. It is always best to use the highest resolution (RAW, not JPG; and also the higher numbers for resolution) unless you absolutely do not have storage. NEVER choose the setting that allows you to create RAW plus JPG for photos, because creating duplicate photos causes many management problems.

Mode setting: the top of a SLR camera usually has a mode dial where you can put the camera on automatic settings or some other mode for manual settings. The problem is that if you throw your camera into a bag, and then take it out, it is very likely the dial will have gotten accidentally changed. The result is someone thinks they have an automatic mode, but in fact it is on some manual setting, so that pictures are out of focus. Thus always check the mode setting when you pull a camera out of a bag.

Photo Number sequencing: there is usually a setting that specifies whether photos are named according to a sequential number setting that keeps continuing from the previous number use, or keeps resetting and starting from 1 again. NEVER use the latter setting because it leads to many photos with the same name, which can produce various problems.

Taking Photographs

Following a few basic principles will make a major difference in the quality of photos even if using automatic settings.

Framing photographs: take a moment to carefully frame your picture, ensuring that it is straight, that what you want is in the photo, and paying attention to the composition and position of the various elements is ideal. Sloppy framing and composition ruins many pictures.

Lighting: the principal way to ruin photos is to have the wrong lighting (exposure), where you might have a wonderfully bright sky, but the face of the person you are trying to photograph is so dark you can't even see details. This is particularly problematic in a high altitude area like the Himalayas where the sun is especially bright. Even on automatic settings, you can minimize these problems through simple tactics:

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