As a professional photographer, I spend virtually my whole time shooting to an advertising agency’s brief or a set visual, with every shot having a deadline for completion. I think this is the big difference between pro and amateur; you have to come up with the shots on time, on budget and to brief – without fail!

Why not set yourself a brief? Give yourself a time slot of, say, a day to shoot a set subject. Working under a bit of pressure is a good exercise.

I thought I would set myself a brief for a day trip to the seaside. I would try to capture some interesting shots with a shoot time of just four hours. I took with me a G2 Body and three lenses: the 14-42mm, the 45-200mm and the 7-14mm.

The weather was very changeable; one minute the sun was out and there was a blue sky; the next it was raining and all dark grey! Because of this, I decided to shoot all the shots in the aperture priority and let the camera sort out the shutter speed.

But at the same time, I kept an eye on the shutter speed relevant to the subject and style of shot.

The outdoor shots in daylight were shot with the White Balance set to ‘Cloudy’; the indoor shots were on the ‘Tungsten’ setting. All the shots are taken with the camera set to maximum ‘Raw’, plus a small JPEG for editing purposes. Everything was shot handheld; I decided not to use a tripod for maximum portability.

I took a number of shots of The Waltzer and The Twister fairground rides, trying to convey the speed and movement. So, the settings were as follows:

ISO: 800
Lens: 14-42mm
Shutter Speed: 1/10th sec
Aperture: f 4
White Balance: Tungsten

I’d chosen to use an aperture that gave a slow shutter speed to enable me to capture the movement as a blur. Plus, on some shots, I panned the camera as well.

For the Helter-skelter shot, I waited until a couple of seagulls came into frame, which luckily coincided with a grey sky. For this shot, the settings were:

ISO: 100
Lens: 7-14mm (at 13mm)
Shutter Speed: 500th sec
Aperture: f 8
White Balance: Cloudy

When I spotted a sailing boat out of the corner of my eye, I hastily put on the 45-200mm lens and managed to get an interesting shot with the wind farm alongside the boat. The settings for this were as follows

ISO: 100
Lens: 45-200mm (at 200mm)
Shutter speed: 1600th sec
Aperture: f 5.6
White Balance: Cloudy.

I also used similar settings to capture the kite in the sky and some other general views. Thinking on your feet and looking for shots all the time is the key to a successful shoot. Obviously, you have to be careful not to intrude on anyone’s privacy when shooting in a busy public place, especially when there are children playing. For this reason, I have not taken pictures that show any people clearly.

When I’m away for a week or more, I will try to set aside some time alone from my better half to just shoot some nice photos. I will often get up before dawn and visit a spot that I’ve previously seen during the day; I then shoot the scene in the early morning light, also revisiting the same location once again at dusk.

I have not yet been away on holiday this year, but I’ve put together a selection of holiday shots to show you which I’ve taken over the last 18 months or so. On some of these I have used a polarising filter, which cuts out reflections in a similar way to polarising sunglasses, or a Cokin graduated Neutral Density (ND) filter.

The secret to taking better holiday photos is a combination of staying visually aware and simply making some time to just take photos. Here are my top tips:

Tip 1: Set the White Balance to the corresponding light – don’t just leave it always set on AWB (the automatic setting, which will simply achieve the ‘truest’ colour).
Tip 2: Go back and shoot your favourite view a number of times; you may get a better shot at dusk rather than dawn.
Tip 3: Always consider the viewpoint – some of the best angles are often quite low down. (Why not shoot from a choice of heights knowing you can edit later?)
Tip 4: If you can shoot in the ‘Raw’ setting and post-process the images, it will give you more control.
Tip 5: Try to fill the frame; don’t just look ‘down the middle’ – look round the edges of the frame as well.
Tip 6: Invest in a polarising filter and a set of graduated ND filters, e.g. Cokin.
Tip 7: Back up your images onto a computer or portable storage device. Make a copy on a CD when you can as well!

P.S. I’m off now to pack my bags for a ten-day break on Menorca. I will be taking with me my GF1 with a 20mm prime lens – which I think is the ideal travelling companion.

Phil Surbey.

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