By Gear Patrol
on 10.15.12
Photo by GP

If you’ve been following our Sharp Shooter series, you’ve already learned about the fundamentals of DSLR photography along with tips to better capture the area you live in, even at night. But how about when you’re camera’s accompanying something like a vacation — or better yet, an adventure?

In this fourth installation, we’ve lined up some straightforward tips and guidelines to help you better utilize your Canon DSLR kit. Rather than shooting lifeless “postcards”, why not amp up your photos with creative shots that you’ll want to frame? All it takes is a little planning, practice and a thoughtful approach once you’re on location. Whether your next photo opp entails a weekend getaway or a far-flung adventure, here are a few ideas to keep you shooting sharper, and smarter.

Special thanks to Canon for helping make this photography post series possible. Canon, Long Live Imagination.

Sharp Shooter Series

Part 1: Get a Grip on Your DSLR | Part 2: How to Capture Your City | How to Shoot the Night | Sharp Shooter: How to Shoot a Vacation or Adventure

Our Setup

A. Canon EOS 60D ($999), B. Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM ($1,149), C. DSPTCH Camera Sling Strap ($46)

To shoot your adventure, bring along a Canon EOS Rebel T4i SLR camera. It’s light, packed with technology and has a convenient articulating screen (for those hard to see angles and self-portraits). A long-range EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens used with the EOS Rebel T4i will conquer most of your daylight needs. We also suggest the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM, which captures macro and portraits with ultra fast focus and lots of contrast-ey punch.

Combined with the EOS Rebel T4i, these two lenses provide a wide-angle of shooting types in a lightweight, affordable package — capturing sharp photos and sweeping landscapes in a variety of lighting conditions. Add a DSPTCH sling strap for easy carrying on the neck or shoulder, and you’re ready to go.

Planning

Few of us have the luxury of scouting a location before we shoot — unless you happen to work for a movie studio. But advance planning actually plays an important part in great vacation/adventure photos. Instead of scouting and putting yourself through the research ringer, consider a little advance planning before setting out. Not only will a few minutes of planning make shooting easier, but it will also drastically increase your odds of capturing that elusive money shot. Here’s how:

Research: For unfamiliar locales, dive into Flickr and other travel resources for inspiration and ideas on what you actually want to bring home photographically. Maybe there’s an iconic locale you think will look awesome in the evening, or a shot that you came across on flickr, a guidebook or a travel magazine that you want to recreate yourself. Maybe there’s a vantage point you want to try and get to. It’s these initial ideas and planning around them that will make you a far more agile photographer once you’ve arrived.

Plan of Action: Jot down a plan of action — but nothing too complex. A simple list with some notes on your smartphone or notepad will transform your mental organization process. It also frees your imagination to focus on actually capturing the subject versus trying to snap every last sight. Avoid having that dreaded “dear diary” moment with your camera.

Be Spontaneous: Avoid being rigid, both personally and photographically. How often do we stop just to take a photo or continually shoot everything as if it were a live stream? There’s no need to be clinical about it. Skip the textbook method and enjoy your surroundings (the point of the whole trip) while identifying what is most memorable. Consider shooting in a single mode the entire trip around a particularly dramatic setting: e.g. Aperture Priority set wide open (for this Canon setup: f/2.8 on the Canon 60mm or f/3.5-5.6 on the Canon EF-S 18-135mm IS lens). Often times, you’ll find it’s not the obvious choice of capturing everything at once, but rather an isolated moment that makes a special shot. Photography should be fun, and being spontaneous can often result in the most memorable photos.

Practice

Let’s face it, your camera doesn’t get enough use. The reality is, most people break out their cameras for special occasions, family gatherings and vacations. And though we aren’t planning on walking you through the steps of becoming the next great outdoor photographer, what we can tell you this: take your camera everywhere and shoot it. On your outings, on errands, on weekends — everywhere. Practice composing shots and learn how to handle the camera without looking. At the same time, avoid shooting just to shoot — we like to pretend we only have a single roll of 24 exposure film in our cameras to stay focused.

Tip: Give yourself a weekend assignment. For example: capture the best moment from a camping trip in 24 shots or less. Large memory cards have made everyday shooters into accidental photo hoarders. By thinking before you shoot and thoughtfully composing what it is you want to capture and why, you avoid this. You’re not going to upload a thousand photos into a Facebook slideshow, so why shoot that way? Shoot less, shoot better.


When You Get There

Our recommended setup makes for a lightweight yet powerful kit that you can carry all day without fatigue. And since you have a front-row seat on your own travels and adventures, you’ll want to start shooting the moment you arrive. Rely on your planning and think about what you want to achieve from your trip. Perhaps you’re looking to score a few frame-worthy photos, an epic chronicle of you and your buddies’ rafting trip or maybe just a series of photos to upload to Facebook that look like they’ve been peeled right off the pages of National Geographic. There’s nothing wrong with a little ambition, right?

This is where the aforementioned planning and research come into play.

Once you’re on location or out and about, take a moment to take in your surroundings. If you have time to come back, then use your first day to think about where and what it is you want to capture. Maybe the quiet street you’re staying on comes alive with street vendors on the weekend, or there’s a better way to take in the surroundings — like a train, or lesser-seen spots in tucked away alleys. And don’t forget the time of day. An otherwise boring shot of a landscape can take on a dramatic look at sunset or golden hour.

If there’s the inevitable tourist trap, don’t just skip the ratty postcard stand; quickly browse through it to see if there are any locales you think you could capture in a cooler way. Even those boring tourist videos at the visitor center can provide good context. Also, don’t just shoot wide angle photos, or aim up to take in the entire scene — hone in on an action with your zoom, or better yet, get closer.

The Extra Touch

Traditionalists may recommend you take a tripod. Don’t. If you feel entirely unsure of your handheld capabilities or think you’re just cursed with the shakes, consider bringing along a lightweight monopod. You can score one for less than a hundred bucks, but it really shouldn’t be necessary unless you imagine you’ll be shooting in a lot of low-light conditions. Modern cameras like the EOS Rebel T4i have high ISO rates that compensate for limited lighting. A lightweight bag or sling strap is all that’s needed to keep you away from the fuss of extra lenses and gear — or worse, missing a great moment.

Stay on the move. Remember: great moments in photography do not come to you. When peering through the viewfinder, use a brief moment to imagine how the shot you’re composing will look inside a frame or on screen. Is there energy? What’s your subject? Maybe this isn’t the right shot.

In the end, a great vacation photograph is the one that evokes a memory and pushes your imagination down new creative paths every time you see it. A little forethought can not only leave you time to focus on what that is, but gives you the upper hand in actually capturing it.

Sharp Shooter Series

Part 1: Get a Grip on Your DSLR | Part 2: How to Capture Your City | How to Shoot the Night | Sharp Shooter: How to Shoot a Vacation or Adventure

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