Photography talk: how do I take pictures?

When I tell people I have a travel blog, they ask what my “angle” is.  Basically, what do I write about.  Am I a destination and adventure blogger?  Am I a miles and points blogger?  No, really neither of those.  I tread in both waters but if I had to define my “angle” or niche it’d be: taking great pictures of great journeys.

I have a unique writing style and am comfortable with my “voice” per se, but let’s be honest, I’m not winning any writing awards any time soon.  I’ve rarely ever ended a sentence with a preposition and my grammar’s pretty good, so my writing is at a level I’m happy with.

A picture I took on the Rock of Gibraltar in 2004

A picture I took on the Rock of Gibraltar in 2004

Where I saw a lot of opportunity for improvement is my photography.  Great photography makes writing blog posts easier because it cuts down the amount of writing I have to do (since a picture is worth a thousand words, HA HA GET IT?!).  I’ve always liked taking pictures but never really paid much attention to what I was doing.  Sometimes I’d end up with great pictures like the above and other times I’d end up with boring pictures of water.  I’d like to think I’ve gotten better, especially recently, and thought it’d be a good time to start hosting occasional Q&As about photography.

My good buddy and kindred photographer Jeff of Jeffsetter.com had a great post the other day on the gear he uses for photos and that prompted me to go ahead and put this together for you today.

Here are some questions I’ve been asked recently.  If I didn’t answer what you wanted to ask, feel free to ask below in the comments!

How long have you been a photographer?

I’ve owned cameras for a long time but I started studying photography when I bought my first pro-level camera on July 31, 2014.  Everything I know about photography I’ve learned in the past year, before then I would just point a camera at stuff and hope it turned out ok.

How did you learn what you know now?

It may seem unromantic, but I learned by watching a metric ton of Youtube videos.  Then I’d go outside, take some pictures, and try to replicate what I saw in the videos.  Over time I began to pull bits and pieces from all of those videos into my own personal style and/or look.

Also, I’ve had quite a bit of repetition.  I learn by doing.  So far this year I’ve taken just over 15,000 pictures, according to Lightroom.  And that doesn’t even include the ones I’ve deleted!  So most nights you’ll find me out somewhere taking some pics, in search of that perfect picture.

What type of pictures do you like taking?

Landscapes and cityscapes.  I try to take pictures of things people can relate to (cityscapes, if they’re from that city) or places they can aspire to (Lake Bled, Hong Kong, standing next to a monkey in Gibraltar, etc.).  Lately I’ve done more portrait work, and there’s also my aerial photography hobby.

What’s the best camera to have?

The one that’s with you.  Smartphones can take some absolutely incredible pictures.  If that’s all you have right now, that’s fine!  You don’t need to go out and spend a few thousand dollars on a bunch of nice equipment in order to take great pictures.

How did you acquire all of your gear?

I did the exact thing I said wasn’t necessary in the last point, I went out and spent a few thousand dollars on a bunch of nice equipment.

Ok enough of the chit chat, what photography gear do you actually use?

Alright, you asked for it!  I’ll try not to get too technical, but if you have questions please ask in the comments.

I have two camera bodies: a Sony a7 (the camera I bought last year) and my brand new Sony a7rII.  I love megapixels and dynamic range, two things the Sony alpha cameras excel at.  I’m most likely going to sell my a7 and purchase an a6000 for sports photography (it shoots a blazing 11 frames per second!)

Here’s my new baby.

Sony a7rII

Sony a7rII

Looks all beautiful and megapixel-y, right?

I use three different lenses, depending on the type of shot I want.

I use a MeFOTO Globetrotter tripod.  It’s substantial enough to support my camera and whatever lens I throw onto it, yet folds up enough to fit into my carry-on.

mefoto Globetrotter tripod

MeFOTO Globetrotter tripod

If I’m doing some portrait work and need to use some flashes, I have these cheap little flashes from China that run about $70 apiece.  The radio transmitter ($40) for the lighting system goes on the hotshoe of my camera allowing me to fire the flashes remotely (since on-camera flash isn’t the most flattering type of light).  If I need to soften the light a little bit, I’ve found that the Fstoppers FlashDiscs are handy, fold up tightly, and produce a really good result.

What about mobile picture editing?

MacBook Air

MacBook Air, with Boeing sticker from the 787 inaugural

The Air has a really small hard drive, so I carry around a Western Digital My Passport 1TB external hard drive.  I also constantly am uploading raw picture files to Amazon Cloud Drive.  In my eyes, if a photo isn’t backed up in two different locations it’s not actually backed up.  This is CRITICAL.

How do I carry around everything on the road?  I have a Lowepro Fastpack 350.  It’s a great backpack that allows me to fit literally everything you see above (with the exception of the tripod) into it with room for a passport, headphones, and a small book in the upper compartment.  It’s borderline too big to fit underneath some airplane seats so I may be downsizing in the near future, but it works for now.

What software do you use to edit photos?

I use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, and the Nik Software group of plug-ins (mainly Color Efex Pro 4 and Silver Efex Pro 2).

 

Ok, that’s it for now, please ask away in the comments and we’ll do this again soon!

 

5 Comments

  1. What version of lightroom do you use? I’m wondering if the cheaper lightroom 3 is good enough. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi Mark! I use the most current version of Lightroom, simply called Lightroom CC. I have a $10/month subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud, which gets me access to full versions of Lightroom and Photoshop. If your current version of Lightroom works for you, then go for it! However, if you upgrade your gear in the future you might find that Adobe stopped updating Lightroom 3 with profiles for new cameras and lenses.

      Reply
      • You can get Lightroom and Photoshop even cheaper with a 500px pro subscription. That’s what I used for Mrs. Jeffsetter and it’s a no-brainer at that point.

        Reply
      • Very nice post and appreciate the mention. Seems like we are definitely learning on the same timeline (bought my A7R September of 2014) and it’s fun to have a peer in this travel photography game learning as we go along!

        Reply
  2. I’d love to know how you edit photos or any youtube videos you recommend for learning to edit better.

    Reply

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