Better travel pictures: Check your camera speed and ISO

The key to taking great travel pictures is to know the light you are in, and taking the time to adjust your speed and ISO before you shoot. Renowned Los Angeles photographer Alison Reynolds gives some priceless travel tips on taking great photographs with your digital camera.

The vineyards of Tuscany, stretching out across the Chianti hills. (Photo by Alison Reynolds)

LOS ANGELES, Calif., February 14, 2017 – My husband and I are travel writers, frequently wandering the globe to extravagantly fabulous resorts and exotic retreats. He’s the writer, and I’m the photographer. After having my husband, the writer, try to learn how to be my 2nd camera person, I decided it might be a good idea to share some ideas to help more people get better photos from their digital camera.

My husband used to always want me to set the camera so he did not have to do a thing, just point and shoot. Well, that may get you a few OK shots, but it will not always be the case in a lot of situations.

Listen up, take in a few key tips, and you will love your photos and enjoy the process of taking great photographs more and more.

It’s always good to read the directions for your camera. Unfortunately, sometimes those directions are just too involved or poorly written, and their inaccessibility turns many an amateur off to photography.

So let’s simplify.

The 3 main things you need to set before you start taking pictures are:

  1. Your speed – Set it higher if you have lots of light and lower in lower light situations.
    You do not want to set lower than 100 if you are hand holding your camera. In some situations you can use the edge of a building or furniture to steady your camera and go to a lower speed. Otherwise buy a tripod for low light.
  2. Your ISO – The ISO is the speed of your “film.” Your ISO will come in very handy when we get to indoor photography. If you are outdoors, you’ll want to set your ISO to 100 or 200 depending on whether it is a bright day. Some digital cameras go very high with ISO ratings — up to 12,000 or higher, with a boost to Hi when needed. But remember, your photos will get more “Noise” in higher ISO ratings, just like high speed film had more grain.
  3. Your F stop – This is the one I have the camera choose for me. If need be you can set your camera to M for manual and set all yourself. This is best if you have a meter to read your light.

It is very different to shoot outdoors than indoors.

Outdoors is easier, but you still need to know that the sky dictates how you set your camera. In the middle of the day the sky will be very bright. To deal with this you must set your speed at least to 250 or maybe even higher.

Remember though that your camera will not be able to use the flash if you go to a higher speed than can sync with your built-in strobe. Learn this important detail ahead of time.

Which brings up an important point: When shooting outside, it is best to shoot either in the morning or late afternoon for the best lighting.

Most point and shoot digital cameras will have many options on the wheel to set.
I only use from M for manual to P for the camera to choose both F stop and speed.

I prefer to use the S setting so I can choose the speed and the camera will choose the best F stop. Especially when you have a lot of sky in your picture.

You want that blue sky to show in your photos but you must set your speed high.

The best thing to do is set it at 300 and take a shot. With digital we immediately get to see what it looks like. If the speed is still not high enough do another at 400 or 500.

Now remember, the higher you go the darker the other things in your photo will be, like buildings and landscapes. You can choose the best for both and erase the ones that are not good.

If you use Photoshop to tweak your photos, you can always open up the shadows. When you have blown out areas like skies, you will have no data in these, and you will not be able to darken them. They will only take on a “muddy” look.

Indoor photography can be challenging due to low light conditions. But you can also get very interesting photos if you know how to set your camera. If it is really dark, set it at a high ISO. I use my 12,800 ISO in very low light situations and also steady my camera if I need to lower my speed below 100.

For most of my travel photos I use an 18 to 55mm lens. I do carry a wide angle lens and also a longer lens in case they are needed. 90 percent of the time, this is my 18 to 55mm lens. So if you can only afford one, that would be the one to get.

But remember, speed is dependent upon the light, as is the ISO, and both must be set properly in each setting, indoors and outdoors.

After our last trip through Tuscany, my husband was amazed at how much better he had become at photography and how an awareness of how to adjust the ISO and speed had become second nature to his process.

So take the time to really see what you are shooting and make the appropriate adjustments. You will greatly enrich the quality of your photographs as well as your understanding of how to create them.

This is the first in a series of articles about cameras and photography that will try to bring some of my experience from behind the camera to help people help themselves learn how to create better photographs.

Alison Reynolds is a renowned Los Angeles photographer.

Facebook: AlisonReynoldsPhotography

Twitter: @BigAlPeoplesPal

Alison’s husband is CDN travel writer Joel Berliner. @JoelBerliner

CDN travel articles featuring Alison’s photography can be found at:

—All photos by Alison Reynolds

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