Photo tips to help you
get better pictures


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A few very general  Photo Tips that may help you take
better pictures on your canoe camping trips,
and could help save your valuable camera.


Years ago as a budding photographer,  I was always running short on film on my long photo assignments.  I later found the rule of thumb that worked best for my extended trips, was to figure how much film I thought I might use..... then double it.   I never again ran out of film on a job and found that I had few rolls left over. yet the amount was usually quite close.  If you shoot a lot of film, try it.

(1) - If you expect to publish your photos, you need the sharpest and most color saturated shots you can get. For this purpose, I suggest you use slide film. That's what printers prefer to make their color separations from,  and will give you sharper published photos -  better results than prints. If you wish prints ... any slide can be made into a print by any professional photo lab. Some of the newer technology scanners being used today by printers are capable of producing almost as good from prints. Note, I said "almost"

(2) - Always - when you expose a roll of film ... (a) make sure the film is  completely rolled back inside it's canister. That way, later, you will NEVER make a mistake and end up with a double exposed roll. (b) Always - immediately   put the exposed roll back inside the plastic film container. That will keep moisture and sand from getting to the edges of the canister. If you get sand there, when the lab opens the canister to remove your film, there is a good possibility you may find scratches on your film. Putting the film immediately back inside the can eliminates many problems later.

(3)  Keep your film out of high heat conditions. In a canoe, this is easily done by burying it deep under your clothing, or in your pack out of the heat of the sun.   When on assignments in extreme heat conditions,  - (as in Monument Valley) - I used a tiny foam cooler for film only.  In your case you don't need to go to that extreme.  IF ... you decide to use your food cooler ...  First, good idea to put
your film inside watertight "ziplock" bags.  If the film is quite cold, you MUST allow the film to be at ambient temperature for at least an hour  before opening the canister. Otherwise your film will immediately fog with heavy moisture when hitting the warm air and will be ruined.  A trick I often used when caught with little time for warming my film, was to place the film canister under my arm for 20 minutes. That will usually suffice even for refrigerator temperatures. From a freezer, I would recommend longer.  Do not put your film on dry ice.  I never tried it but was told by a Kodak man it could damage the emulsion.

(4) I
always use a polarizer filter except when shooting 'due North' or in low light. I generally leave it on at all times otherwise. (Though it's optimum efficiency is 90 degrees to the sun it still allows you to get less reflection from your subject, and cuts down the glare from a water surface therefore giving you better color saturation. Learn to use it before you start shooting. I prefer the maximum setting. Which is turning it until the sky is at it's darkest point or the water has no glare. (If you use it shooting due north on a clear day, your sky will be an ugly deep navy blue)  If you use one of the small inexpensive cameras with no means of adding a filter . . . you're out of luck. 

(5) - You will get your best (most crisp) pictures between 9:30 and 11:00 am   Those you shoot in the afternoon will be fine but never quite as crisp or color saturated as those early morning shots. The heat, haze (moisture and dust) in the air worsens as the day grows longer. The late evening shots are not a problem since you want a slightly warmth in them anyway. But they will never be as crisp as early morning when the air is cleaner and cooler.

(6) - If you are using a quality camera that allows you to adjust your shutter speed, always try and shoot at speeds above 125 and you will rarely have "un-sharp" problems. Do NOT hand hold your camera at speeds under 60 unless you have a good steady rest - like against a tree or ? I have tried and I have rarely been successful enough to take a shot good enough to sell. For family use it might be semi-OK.     ALWAYS... where you can, use a tripod or a steady rest.

(7) - On the subject of "un-sharp" shots, the biggest culprit in un-sharp photos is the shooter got in a rush and 'punched' the shutter release button - rather than squeezing it gently. It's like shooting a firearm.  You don't jerk the trigger  .... hold steady and squeeze slowly and gently .

(8) - Never shoot into the sun... unless you are looking specifically for a silhouette. When shooting in bright sunlight, always try to position yourself so that the sun is over YOUR shoulder. If you wish great silhouette shots, expose only for the brightest part of the frame... not the subject you want silhouetted.

(9) - One exception - For a great close-up shot, place your subject with his back to the sun, (you are shooting into the sun) expose for the background and use a flash to fill in the facial shadows. Makes great shots. Another (without flash) good shot is placing your subject on the bright sand ... at the edge of the water, with his back to the sun... the light reflecting off the sand makes some nice warm fill light on your subject. The dark background of the water, river bank and trees helps to accentuate your subject. Expose for the subject only. If you don't know how to do that,   you move in very close and take a reading on his or her face. Then set you camera on manual ... for that reading -- and shoot.  Walla.... great shot! 

(10) - Don't forget however - sand is extremely bright... if you are not careful placing your subjects... it can fool your automatic camera into closing your shutter down far too much ... (in some cases as much as two or three stops) causing you to get  underexposed photos. (Very dark looking)  If you have a newer camera with adjustments, you can usually adjust for the extra brightness by opening up one stop for normal brightness and two stops for extremely bright sun and sand. However, one of the common mistakes made here is that many people forget to reset their stops to normal after the shot. Don't forget!
That adjustment may differ on some newer cameras but is generally made on or beside the knob where you set your film speed.  On my Nikon it is on the top of the camera beside the knob where the film speed is set. The way you would do that is to fool the camera. If you are using 400 speed film for example. To compensate for the bright sand, to get more light through the lens you would set your film speed one notch (or two) BELOW   400.  To get less light, one notch (or two) ABOVE the 400, and so on.
If you are unsure... Shoot several shots and bracket. Bracket means that you shoot several shots
on either side of where you think your correct exposure should be. That way you are assured of getting at least one near perfect shot.
Don't be ashamed to go to this to get that perfect picture. Even Ansel Adams  bracketed his shots.

OH...  the ONLY way you can bracket with a "fully automatic" camera is by adjusting your film speed up or down one or two notches ... as mentioned above.  However, some of the newer cameras I am not familiar with may possibly have a better way to accomplish that. With the new automatic cameras using the DX system, you are foiled.  No way I know to accomplish the ASA change.

(11) - For photographing anything (scenics)on this river - you will rarely use anything other than a 35MM (semi-wide angle lens) for 90% of your shots ... or possibly a 50MM lens.  It is not necessary to bring anything more than that. However, if you plan on going into the Okefenokee ... I would also include a telephoto. You will find MANY opportunities to photograph large 'Gators here and your telephoto will be very useful, almost a must!  On the Suwannee, ( if you are lucky enough to see one) the 'Gators are very skittish and will rarely give you time to even get your camera up ... much less change your lens. Moral ... Don't bring anything you will not need! Just something else to lug -- and you will never use.

(12) - One last thing... be extremely careful if you wipe your camera lens while paddling the river. (any river)  (You must keep it clean)  Canoeing on the Suwannee you always have sand on and in everything. If you wipe the lens with anything other than a clean lens tissue... there is a good possibility you might have a single grain of sand on it... and you can ruin a superb and expensive lens in the bat of an eye. (a) The BEST way to make sure that does not happen is to keep a Skylight filter on your lens at all times. (b) Keep your lens tissue inside a sealed ziplock bag. (c) Also ... keep your lens cap in place whenever not shooting.  Do not use lens tissue that is not sealed well in a ziplock bag or some other air and water (and sand) tight  container.
REMEMBER,  all it takes is one tiny grain - to totally destroy a $300. - $400.  lens.   ONE MORE TIME ----
Use extreme care on the river. Sand gets into everything.  A few grains of sand -- even one on your lense cleaning tissue can ruin an expensive camera or lens if you are careless.

NEW addition!   Keep your good camera in a watertight bag or compartment of some sort... especially before running shoals or small rapids.  On 5-8-99, Thinking my camera was in a safe water tight camera bag ... I learned the hard way -  and lost my Nikon F-3 and lens to water.  (cost me a small fortune to repair) The bag turned out to be not water tight ... and we swamped in Little Shoals rapids above White Springs.  I had used this Nikon  for 14 years ...   it about killed me to lose it.  Not to mention the monitory loss. UPDATE: Had it cleaned and repaired to the tune of $375.00  Be warned... don't make the same mistake. 

Happy shooting,   Have a question, just ask!

Hope you get some superb shots!      TAKE PLENTY OF FILM!  And have a great trip. Send me a good shot and we may run it in our photo of the Month page. Credit is given and all hard copy photos are returned. Also, note your copyright protection on the bottom of my main page. Your photo will not be used anywhere else.

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Page updated on 10/13/01