Monday, October 3, 2011

photography stuff:

So I thought I'd do a quick post about all things photography and our trip - the gear we took plus some tips that might be helpful, especially when taking portraits (I've received quite a few questions about taking these kinds of shots).

the gear we took:

Canon 5d mkII SLR - an amazing body with heaps of megapixels. Also allows full HD filming.
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens - great all rounder lens. It's fast and sharp - just a bit big, but I was so happy with the photo quality that it was worth the extra weight.
Canon EF 50mm II f/1.8 lens - an extremely affordable lens that takes some lovely shots. To be honest I did not use this too much as I like having the zoom option, plus it was a bit slower than the 24-70mm. I would like to upgrade to the f1.4 or f1.2 however.
Canon Powershot S95 - a fantastic point and shoot with full manual capabilities. Andrew used this camera and was very impressed with it.
Canon S95 underwater housing - had to get the housing so we could take shots under the sea. The s95 took some beautiful shots with a special underwater setting ensuring the colour balance was near correct.
Macbook Pro 13" - decided to take a Macbook so we could download all of our photos, edit and do blog posts etc. Was great except for the hard drive dying on us in Beijing. Lucky for us though, everything was backed up, there was an Apple store and it was under warranty, so crisis averted!
Lacie 1TB external hardrive - took two hard drives to back up all of our photos and files

taking a detail shot in Khiva, Uzbekistan. shot by Andrew with Canon S95

some tips:
  • lighting is probably the most important element in a photograph. Dusk and dawn are great times to shoot, so try and maximise your shooting then. 
  • when taking photos during the day, be aware of things like bright backgrounds (which will make your subject dark) and harsh shadows.
  • compositionally, use the rule of thirds (where your subject matter is not placed in the middle, but in a 'third' like below). This makes  such a difference to your composition and your photos will much more interesting overall.

  • when visually documenting a city/country, try and capture all of the 'senses' with your photos. Photograph the tastes (eg food, drinks), the smells (eg food, spices, flowers) the sounds (eg music, people, street scenes) the details (eg textures, architectural details) the people and the big picture (eg landscapes, street scenes). A mix of all this will communicate your experiences to your friends and family.
  • for portraits, don't be afraid to go up and ask someone if you can take their picture (and always ask). You will get some 'nos', but you'll also get a lot more 'yeses'. Don't take any negative answers personally, just leave it at that and move on. When taking the shot, get in nice and close. Really close! I did find that by building a bit of rapport with a person really helped in achieving a great portrait. One example I'll never forget is in Kashgar. The women at first would not let me take any photos of them, at all. However, I ended up buying some silk ikat pants (just because I really liked them!)  that most of women were wearing too. I decided to wear them out one evening while wandering around the old town, just cause they are awesome, to which I got a super positive response. Many women started smiling at me in the street and started to greet me. It was like it broke down a massive wall, with a massive change in attitude - so I did end up getting a few photos after all. So little things like that can help.
taking a portrait in Urfa, Turkey

the shot
  • just have fun! Take shots of things that grab your interest, no matter how obscure they may be. This will ensure that your photos look unique and depict the world through your eyes.
  • also remember, that isn't necessarily all about the gear. Having a good camera and lens most definitely helps, but it isn't what makes an amazing shot. It's all about your eye and what you see, incorporating good lighting and composition. 

I hope this helps. If there is anything I missed, feel free to leave a comment below and I can answer your questions.

Next: what we bought!


  1. Hi Gemma
    I just wanted to say thanks for such a great post. I fell in love with your photography on the Design Files and it's been wonderful to read some behind the scenes detail here. I'm secretly a little jealous of all your amazing travels! Thanks again for sharing them.

  2. of course i LOVE this post :) and i love seeing pics of you taking pics - so i have a sense of how close you get to the people for your portraits...looks like i need to take a step or two (or three!) closer to get the kind of results i'm really after.

    can you talk about your post-processing (if any) a bit? i particularly love your black and white conversions (i do a simple black and white conversion in ps but always looking for new ways!)...yours seems to have more depth and (correct me if i'm wrong) some grain?

  3. Love this post! while i'm not a photographer, I appreciate the art!

  4. this is so great. well done! we have the exact same gear, literally. how awesome.

  5. Thank you for writing this post. We take three lenses on our travels at the moment. I have recently decided that I simply can't live without the 24-70 and have it down for my next purchase. I do love the small size of the 50mm 1.8 as its great to pop into my handbag for a long walk or dinners out. Also, I love seeing what you wore in some of these photos as I love seeing travel wardrobes too.

  6. I'd also love to know more about your post processing esp. the black and white. It looks so so good.

  7. thanks all! i'll look at doing a post on post-processing too then :)

  8. Love this! Thanks for sharing your tips and tricks Gemma :)

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