5 hacks for travel photography that pops: Part 2
Stab in the dark
Hack #2: Stab in the dark
Photography can be a curious visual art. Unlike, say, drawing or painting, what comes into the frame is often a result of luck, or at most sublime, a flight expertly guided from crazy fluke territory (google Matt Stuart's photos if you're not quite following my logic). And while you can't teach good luck per sé, a rule that always stands true is that there's no substitute for spending the time. Successful photographs usually leave a trail of (hopefully fun) failures in their wake.
When shooting at night this is especially so because there are more variables at play than during the day (see Hack #1). Artificial light sources in cities are dim (compared to sunlight), many, and in multiple colours. This creates all sorts of visual effects, but most importantly, because of the dimness, your photographs will need more time to expose.
Related story: 5 hacks for travel photography that pops: Part 1
Traditionally, this has been a restriction worked around by popping a flash to freeze the moment or by using a tripod to avoid camera-shake. Though on the flipside, night conditions also allow experimentation with slow exposures that capture movement, like motion blur and light trails. I took the photographs illustrating Hack #2 while road-testing the new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with exactly this latter kind of experimentation in mind. There are two main ways to do it:
Hold still and let moving objects create streaks of blur through your composition.
Track a moving object and let everything else streak it up.
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Traditionally, the first technique has required a tripod or a very steady hand (to keep everything but the streaks sharp), and the second technique a smooth hand (to precisely follow the moving subject, again for sharpness). Though the new image stabilisation tech in the Olympus removes the need for a tripod in exposures even to more than a quarter of a second. You can also choose between specifically vertical and horizontal anti-shake modes depending on which way you orient your frame while panning.
Bottom line: experiment, accept that ¾ of the time your stabs in the dark won't pay off, then persist, you never know what's about to roll into your frame.
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Cam Cope was awarded Travel Photographer of the Year 2014 by the Australian Society of Travel Writers, and teaches short courses in Contemporary Travel Photography at RMIT University in Melbourne.
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