4 Tips for Tough Photo Scenarios

Lalo de Almeida/The New York Times/Redux

Photographer Adam Fernandez reveals how travelers can take better photos while grappling with motion, glass surfaces, the elements, and—perhaps most challenging of all—other people.

Moving and action Traveling by bus or train is one of the most economical ways to get around. But taking photographs from a moving vehicle can result in blurred images, poor composition, or even missed shots. You can use a few simple techniques to avoid these problems. Panning, a common approach, involves moving the camera along with the subject in motion (this works whether you're using automatic or manual mode). When photographing from inside a moving vehicle, for example, move your camera in the same direction as the object you want to photograph—doing your best to keep the object or person squarely in the frame.

This is a good time to use the auto-advance option if your camera has one: Keep your finger on the shutter button and let the camera take photographs continuously. It may take a little while for your digital camera to write the images to disk, but you're more likely to get the shot you're after. If you're shooting through glass from inside a vehicle, wait for the vehicle to come to a stop so you can open the window safely without the risk of dropping your camera. (See the next section for tips on taking photographs through glass.)

Timing and technique are always important in action photography, but when you've left the bus and are shooting action from on the ground, good positioning becomes critical. Survey the scene for a minute or two, and then pick the spot that has the best point of view with the fewest obstructions. Steer clear of areas where people frequently pass by and jeopardize a clear shot, for example, or simply find yourself a perch that lifts you above objects that might get in your way. Your subject is in motion and won't give you another chance, so you need to freeze the action by using a very fast shutter speed like 1/250th or 1/500th of a second.

If you're not comfortable using your camera manually or don't have the option, check to see if it has a sports or action mode, usually depicted by an icon of someone running. Select the mode, and the camera will automatically choose the highest possible shutter speed for the lighting conditions and then freeze the action. Higher shutter speeds and smart positioning will help you take crisp, beautiful shots of scenes like kids running at the beach, action-packed carnivals and parades, or even animals striding across the open plain while on safari.



Through glass If you find yourself wanting to photograph something separated from you by glass, perhaps while visiting a museum or window-shopping, be aware that the glass can cause reflections that distort the object you're trying to photograph. A cloudy day works well because it yields low-contrast light that minimizes reflections, so put gray days to use if you can. Regardless of the forecast, you can easily reduce the effect of reflections (no fancy equipment or special skills needed!).

First, turn off your camera's flash to prevent a burst of light that will cause a strong, bright reflection in the glass. Then try moving around while looking through your viewfinder until the reflection disappears. If you concentrate and work patiently, you may be able to find an angle where the light does not cause a reflection or at least dissipates enough to yield a more effective image. Also try to get as close to the glass as possible; your body and the camera will shield the glass and reduce, if not eliminate, the reflection. This is particularly useful for smaller objects on display in glass cases or behind store windows.



In a crowd It can be difficult, even nerve-racking, to photograph in crowds. But remember that the more self-conscious you are, the harder it will be for you to blend in, capture un-staged shots, and enjoy the experience. You should also keep your equipment minimal: Don't pack extra gear, and try to use a bag that does not scream "camera." You'll find it easier to move around as you'll be less conspicuous and less of a target for potential pickpockets. Some photographers even cover the brand name of the camera with a small piece of electrical tape.

Finding an unobstructed point of view can be tough with lots of other people around. One option is to photograph through people, using their heads and backs to frame the compositions. Place the subject you wish to capture in between the people in front of you. If the crowd is too deep to see the subject—often the case at a parade or festival—you can try what the pros call a "Hail Mary" shot. Place the camera above your head with your arms outstretched. If you angle the camera down slightly, you should be able to take a reasonably good shot. The advantage of having a digital camera is that you can check your results right away and make adjustments if necessary. Remember, it's not called a Hail Mary for nothing; if the photo looks bad, erase it and try it again.

Another good trick is to look up. Are there any bars or restaurants around with a balcony? Is there a bench or a chair you can step on? Just about any degree of elevation is likely to improve your point of view and help remove unwanted obstructions.



In the snow or at the beach Anytime you photograph in the snow or near the water, you run the risk of underexposing your images. (When an image is underexposed, it lacks contrast and tends to look gray and washed out.) The reason is that your camera's light meter reads the highly reflective surface, whether it's snow or water, and bases its exposure on that. Our solution is counterintuitive: Turn your flash on when you take your picture. You can use the flash in automatic mode at full power or in a "fill-flash" mode if your camera has one. Either way, the flash helps to neutralize the highly reflective surfaces and significantly reduces the problems of backlighting and underexposure.

When facing snow, sand, or water, remember that the elements at hand don't agree with camera equipment. At the beach, be sure to bring a cloth or small towel with you. Any cloth will do, but nylon dries a lot faster than cotton. Camping and outdoor outfitters such as rei.com or campmor.com will have a good selection. If it's raining, but you just have to get that shot, drape the cloth over the camera, being careful not to obstruct the lens.

Salt and sand are the nemeses of all electronics, so once you've got the shot, immediately dry off the camera and the lens. Use your cloth to gently clean the camera body, and use a can of compressed air to clean the lens—a cloth could scratch the lens, but air will safely blow away any debris. Small cans of ozone-safe compressed air can be found at any good office-supply store.

And one tip for cold-weather photography: Keep your camera close to your body. Cold weather tends to drain a camera's battery power and can slow your camera's controls in general. The warmer you can keep your equipment, the better it will function.



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