Granite Club Workshop Notes

Here are the notes as promised from last night’s workshop on Travel Photography which I gave at Toronto’s Granite Club. And here’s some good news: You didn’t have to be in the audience to benefit from these travel photography tips. 

See for yourself:

Tips for beginners using point-and-shoot cameras:

  • It doesn’t matter what camera you take, so long as you take one you know how to use (Read the manual.)
  • Most point-and-shoot cameras work just fine in AUTO mode shooting in JPG format
  • (JPG format is the one where the camera automatically produces a pleasing digital photo file. RAW is for more advanced photographers who want to create their own JPGs using RAW editing software.)
  • When it comes to editing your JPG images (cropping, lightening or darkening the image and other minor changes) simple editors such as IPhoto (Mac computers) or Google’s Picasa (for PCs) are terrific and easy to use
  • Buy an extra battery and additional memory cards (I use 8- and 16-gig cards which have tons of space to record images.)
  • Consider bringing a miniature tripod or Gorillapod to help create wonderful shots at night
  • For nighttime shots set your camera to PROGRAM mode (so the camera flash doesn’t automatically go off and ruin the photo)
  • Daytime shots with people in the foreground try one shot with the built-in flash on the camera
  • Put the camera on the tripod and using the camera’s self-timer (see your instructions) take the photo
  • Make photocopies of all your personal and travel documents and take a copy with you and leave one with a friend at home just in case of theft
  • When shooting, move in closer for better photos (especially of people)
  • Shoot at least one shot at eye level – with adults, kids and pets…even works for better shots of statues  🙂
  • Shoot lots of images

For photographers using cameras with interchangeable lenses:

  • If you’re going on a photo safari, take as much as you can safely carry
  • Take a carbon-fibre tripod with a separate ball-head ($600 to $1500 for both) or a monopod on photo junkets
  • If you’re taking a lot of equipment go to Canada Customs with your equipment and get a Customs declaration form (which will allow you to bring the equipment back into the country without threat of paying duty on equipment officials might think was purchased out of country) that will list the model and serial number
  • Do not pack any expensive cameras or lenses in checked-in baggage but hand-carry everything
  • Buy the camera bag that suits you (backpack, over-the-shoulder, hard case etc.)
  • Do not leave camera bags unattended for any reason
  • My basic shooting kit is one camera body with an 18-200mm zoom lens for general daylight shooting and a fast 50mm f/1.8 lens for shooting available light indoors
  • My serious shooting kit adds another camera body plus a wide-angle zoom (12-24mm), a macro lens (105mm f/1.8) and a fast 35mm f/1.8 lens plus a second flash unit and tripod
  • If I was shooting wildlife I’d like a 80-400mm zoom for my Nikons or a 200-400mm zoom with a dedicated Nikon teleconverter (for more reach)
  • Rather than carry a computer with me I now take sufficient number of 16 gig cards which I download into the computer once I return home
  • An external flash that can bounce light will make your flash shots look professional (shoot in PROGRAM mode and let the camera/flash combination do the work)
  • Learn to use exposure compensation (see your manual) in PROGRAM, APERTURE OR SHUTTER PRIORITY modes (won’t work in AUTO mode)
  • Learn to use multiple and single focusing points (I tend to use single almost all the time)
  • Shoot in RAW and edit images at home in Photoshop ($800) or Lightroom 3 ($300) or Aperture 3 (for the Mac) which currently is on sale for $79 from the online Mac Store

Tips for Everyone:

  • Use ISO 100 or 200 for most shots including flash shots and night time exposures
  • Use ISO 800 or 1600 (depending on the camera) for available light shots (when you’re not using a flash)
  • Remember the rule of thirds when composing as well as near/far shooting (something in the foreground to create perspective)
  • Shoot lots
  • Remember to shoot during the “golden hours” of one hour before and after sunrise and sunset
  • avoid shooting landscapes during the middle of the day
  • shoot during rainstorms or snowfalls or when there’s mist or fog for lovely photos
  • know a few phrases in the language of the land
  • take a polarizing filter (especially on trips near water)
  • for perfect sunrise and sunset shots get a graduated split filter
  • a Hood Loupe is great for outdoor shooting
  • Use your lens hoods to block stray light (flare)
  • Research the place where you are visiting for safety and photo opportunities

Thanks again to all my “students” from the Granite Club. If you have any questions you are invited to email them to me at

To see more of my images, please visit my site at Peter West Photography

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