Some hints - How to take pictures in the Himalayas
Note: I wrote this quick checklist basically as a reminder for myself. Most of the
hints don't come from myself originally, I've just read them somewhere and found them useful.
I never use my camera except when trekking. And I'm not very talented. In order to
get at least some pictures with which I am happy with I do the following:
- Bring lots of film / memory / batteries.
- Take lots of pictures
- When in doubt take the same pictures with slightly different
settings or from a different angle
- Throw away two thirds of the pictures.
- Try hard. Push myself to literally go the extra mile. Open my eyes, look for special things.
- Try to remember some of the basic rules below, and read them a few times before the trek:
When trekking, the scenery, smells, atmosphere are all stunning. But the
most you can capture in a picture is what's visual (and even that is
hard). So to produce
pictures which are more than a personal reminder, these non-visual feelings have to be translated into something
Taking special pictures takes extra effort, it's motivation to see more. For sunrise, get up earlier than the others, climb a hill and miss breakfast. You can eat later, the subject is probably a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Before taking the picture, I try to describe what I see, what I want to achieve and
Example 1: Think of one adjective which describes the scene, like "stunningly
colourful". Then form a sentence like "I like the colours because they
are contrasting each other, and I'm gonna zoom in to get red, blue and green
into the same picture".
Example 2: "Lonely monastery". "I like the appearance of the
monastery on the isolated hill, so I'm going to show as much barren rockface as
possible, putting the monastery on the top left using a wide angle"
- Keep the picture simple and focused on the main subject (zoom and use
- Use lines (river, street, shadow), think about frog perspective
- Use frames
- Rule of Thirds
- put the subject in one of the four spots, bottom right is most
effective but make sure not all the pictures have the main subject at
the same place
- when the subject moves, make sure it doesn't walk out of the picture -
give it room
- put vertical lines out of the center, since it cuts the picture in
- don't use strong lines / horizon in the center, since it cuts the
picture in half
- put the subject into lower left intersection, and make it lead towards the center of the picture
- vertical lines add dynamic (sunrays, rails), very effective are S-lines
- look for simple geometric shapes (example: three persons standing together
like a triangle)
- when a person sits on a bench make sure the bench stands not only on
- Draw a viewer's attention by silhouetting objects or people in the
- Change position - frog perspective make things look bigger and adds
dynamic to an action
- Get close. Get closer
- A cluttered background with trees or other unwanted elements sprouting out
from behind your subject usually makes a confusing and distracting picture.
- Don't put the subject in the middle
- Take pictures through frames (door, tree branch, etc.)
- Before taking a picture, turn around. There might be a perfect foreground just behind you.
- Use contrasts. Use "contradictions", e.g. single flower on a rock. Use contrasting colours. If there are not many colours (e.g. "bad" light), use this to create "b/w"-pictures (e.g. silver river in a black valley)
- Avoid merging elements
- e.g., no tree or telephone pole should stand right next/behind your
- 1. Get Down: So many good landscape shots miss the chance to be great simply because we lift the camera to our faces and shoot. This may capture the inspiring scenery, but from a head-height perspective that we are all unconsciously accustomed to. Simply getting low to the ground can improve your results and make your photo stand out.
2. Tilt Forward: Enhance the impact of your immediate location in the context of the whole by tilting your camera forward and focusing on what's immediately in front of you while keeping the rest of the landscape in the picture.
3. Shoot Through: Shooting from just inside a treeline or through a bunch of tall grass or flowers will heighten the sense of being in the landscape.
4. Seek Contrast: Include strong elements of light and shadow to achieve a more stunning effect.
5. Frame: Look for opportunities to frame your landscape photos in dramatic ways such as breaks in the foliage or open portals like glassless windows and open doors.
- Dimensions: A picture is two-dimensional. Use the following to create the
- Converging lines
We have all seen photographs of roads going from near to far until finally disappearing in the distance. Such photographs create a very strong sense of depth since the roads act as lines leading our eyes into the distance. The photographic print, or digital image on a monitor, is still absolutely flat. But to the eye it appears as if we are looking into a scene many miles deep.
- Foreground Background Relationships (Large and Small Objects).
We know that to our eyes nearby objects appear larger than faraway objects. For example a Ponderosa Pine tree appears gigantic when we stand right in front of us but seem to shrink to the size of a large match stick when viewed from several miles away. Placing such a tree in the foreground of a photograph, or just part of the trunk of the tree, and then placing another similar tree in the background will definitely give the viewer a clear indication of distance. Comparing the relative size of the two trees will allow the viewer to actually gage the distance relatively accurately if he is personally familiar with natural settings and with Ponderosa Pines.
This fourth technique relies on one simple rule: we know that objects that are in front of other objects are closer to us physically. Using that rule we can purposefully compose a photograph so that certain objects overlap over objects thereby giving a strong sense of depth to the image.
Haze is another way to recreate depth. We know intuitively and from experience that haze (and fog) gets thicker as the viewing distance increases. Distant object, in hazy or foggy conditions, are thus harder to see than nearby
objects. This is especially useful when shooting down into the valleys
and show how they get smaller towards the plains.
- take time to get "to know" the other person (hurried or "stolen" (tele-) portraits are easy to detect)
- eyes must be focused
- often fuzzy background very effective
- difficult in bright sunlight (no matter where it comes from)
- if person is unnaturally serious, put a friend next to create relaxed atmosphere
- same level: kneel down to portrait children or sitting persons
- very effective if context can be brought into the picture (e.g. shopowner surrounded by his wares)
- often useful to use flash during daylight: no shades on face and faces
will be brighter than background
- when taking portraits in snow, always use flash
- make background fuzzy, use large lens opening
- do not use wide-angle lens, step away a few meters and zoom in
- prominent horizontal or vertical lines detract from
- be alert, awake and smile
- active people from frog-perspective
- composition is very important
- use foreground to increase depth
- create depth: use lines, same sized objects getting smaller, haze
- wide lens with low horizon / much sky creates vastness
- high horizon looks confining
- sit still / use a tripod
- if possible: right after sunrise, right before sunset --> the light
will be orange, long deep shadows add depth. It's tempting to take pictures
during the day, but I got disappointing results and totally washed out
colours when using point and shoot camera.
Often its worth to set the alarm clock to catch the sunrise.
- make a landscape more interesting
- look more impressive with Polarizer filter
- if sky is evenly gray and dull, concentrate on the ground. Avoid white
skies. If you shoot digitally add a contrast-enhancement curve (S-curve) to your file to compensate for the naturally low-contrast of digital sensors.
- if possible, use UV filter to get rid of unwanted haze
- especially for sunrise / sunset: bracket!
- The Large Landscape
Wide angle lenses create the most dynamic compositions. As we move from wide angle to normal to telephoto the composition becomes more and more static as we will see. Wide angles introduce “movement” in the image by allowing us to show what is close and what is far at the same time, and/or by allowing us to show a huge amount of the scene in front of us, much more, as I said, than we can see at once with our eyes. To see as much with our eyes as a wide angle lens sees we have to turn our head up and down and right to left. There is no way we can see the whole of a wide angle lens scene at once without looking through the camera.
The dynamism introduced by wide angle lenses comes from the fact we are looking at a scene which we cannot possibly see without a camera. Wide angle scenes exceed what we can humanly see with our eyes only. They exceed our physical capabilities, blow open our boundaries, and reveal to us a world both attractive and foreign, a world we long to explore for ourselves.
Be careful, using 24mm or 28mm can make objects (mountains) on the horizon
very, very small - and you might be disappointed when you get the picture
some weeks later.
- Near/Far Effect
When I plan to photograph the Grand Canyon at sunset, for example, I look for a great foreground during the day (such as an uncommon tree or rock) and plan my composition. When I return to this chosen location for sunset I hope to be blessed with beautiful clouds over the Canyon. The tree is my foreground, the Grand Canyon my middle and background, and the clouds my second background. It is hard not to create a wonderful when you know exactly what to do to successfully combine all these elements!
- The Small Landscape
The third category is the one I call Small Landscapes. These are, by definition, isolated elements of the landscape, elements that we may miss (and often do miss) while looking at the general scene, because we tend to see the whole rather than the parts.
Wide angle views surprise us because they show so much more than we can see with our own eyes. Telephoto views surprise us because they show us so many more details than we can see with our naked eyes. Details of faraway objects that we cannot see with our own eyes are revealed in absolute clarity by the lens. Telephoto photographs allows us to admire what we so far could only guess existed. We look into the small landscape as one looks inside a treasure box, wondering what else is inside, what else we missed, what else may be hidden inside.
The small landscape rarely shows the sky. More often than not, the sky is not part of the photograph. The small landscape is an introspective view, rather than an overall view (for the large landscape) or a focused view (for the medium landscape). Not including the sky in a photograph means removing one of the most powerful elements the viewer has to define how big, how tall, how deep a natural feature is.
So make sure it is a really strong image you capture, like a lonely tree
in barren rockface. The fact there is no sky, the fact we can see infinitely small details in relatively distant objects clearly, all this creates in us a feeling of “otherness,” a feeling that the photograph we are looking at is greatly out of the ordinary.
- series of pictures which tell a complete story (getting the yak caravan
- series of pictures which show pieces of a complex scene (at the market)
- measure bright background, not dark foreground
- use delicate silhouettes instead of bulky ones
- if you can, use tripid
- overlap 25%
- beware of movement (people, ripples on a lake)
- take wide angle to make sure you don't have to cut off the main subject when later stiched together
- in bright light: sidelight or frontlight make the snow sparkle
- in dull light: needs contrast (tree, persons, grass) good in evening light
- moon and snow can be a good combination
- add one stop, otherwise picture gets too dark
- Use lense-hood
- needs lots of contrast
- use flash only when very dark
- can make close-ups of flowers more interesting, take care of using
raindrops as features
- use puddles and all the other unpleasant things that come with rain -
you'll get shots that nobody else got
Sunrise / Set
- sun must be low and not too bright
- very good with mist or clouds
- maybe a silhouette in foreground would be better (sunrise with or without
tent makes a big difference)
- when using water as reflection, do not put horizon in the middle of the
- use zoom (otherwise sun will be disappointingly small)
- measure exposure next to the sun
- when sun is still visible, try 1/125 f/8
- when sun disappeared, try 1/60 f/4
- red sky in the evening
- f/16, 1/15 very bright, sun is white
- f/16, 1/125 red sky, yellow saturated sun
- f/16, 1/1000 black sky, orange sun
- nice with snow
- be careful about too long shutter times, the moon moves quickly
- at night: either take picture of moon or moon-lighted scenery - if you want
both at the same time take picture at dusk
- obviously, do not hold camera in your hand.
- shutter 1/4 makes flow very fuzzy
- shutter 1/250 looks 'real'
- shutter 1/2000 'freezes' a waterfall
- avoid waves
- avoid putting horizon in the middle of the picture, follow rule of
- often it's nice to know where the reflection and where the original
is, avoid exact mirror by choosing correct angle
- be patient, don't put animals under stress
- be prepared, wear good shoes. no "stalking" of blue sheep in sandals (anymore)
- put them offcenter
- take care of the background, it's very easy to mess up and create a chaotic picture
- use a background that contrasts with the animal's colour
- instead of large depth of field or very clear picture, add a fuzzy foreground that might even partly 'hide' the animal
- prepare camera before "stalking" the animal
- focus on the eyes (if you get that close)
- change memory card and battery early enough so don't have to exchange at a bad moment
- Find a position that provides a plain, non-competing background.
- Get close. If your camera has a close-up focusing mode, use it and get as close as the camera manual suggests. With a digital camera, use the display screen to compose the picture.
- Shoot at different angles. Vary the level of your viewpoint. Shoot down to create attractive pinwheel patterns of daisies; kneel to the level of other flowers, such as tulips and daffodils.
- Use creative lighting. Observe the lighting on your flowers. Backlighting shining through some flowers gives them an appealing glow.
- Use raindrops if there are any.
- patterns are made more effective by adding a contradictory pattern
- look for motives that offer interesting shapes, colours, patterns
- rule of third, colour harmonization are key
- side-light often very effective
- use wide angle, but beware of falling lines
- in cities, use long shutter speed to indicate movement of peole (use tripod)
- Patterns are a good way to capture nature.
- watch out for first clue
- look harder
- work the subject
- move closer
- compose carefully
- remove lens hood
- watch out for reflecting background, esp. when taking pictures of
- use small lense opening (without loosing light)
- raindrops can increases colours
- backlight and sidelight can be very useful
- fast shutter and small lense with flash makes background very dark
- use simple background
- if possible use complementary colours
- take pictures of signposts, famous landmarks etc. It might feel stupid to
take the same pictures others also take, but these pictures are great if you
are presenting them to others.
- use complementary colours and group them to add or reduce depth
- yellow in foreground, blue in background --> good combination, adds
- green in foreground, red in background --> good combination, little
- move camera with subject to create clear subject and fuzzy background
(shutter 1/125) - when using zoom the shutter time has to be faster
Out of car / plane
- take pictures of objects far away, close objects will blur
- sun should be behind you
- hold camera close to window to avoid reflection
- do not use a polarizer filter
- use wide-angle camera with shutter speed of 1/250
- remember it has little depth of field, and use this feature
- compresses dimensions, use this feature
- when using 300 mm, the shutter time should not be shorter than 1/250
- get close, especially when taking pictures of people: tele-lense is often
not close enough to really add life to the picture
- lense hood can cut the side of the picture, be careful about vignetting
- foreground larger than in real, do not use for portraits
- when using 28mm, the shutter time should not be shorter than 1/30
- spare batteries !!!
- UV filter
- Polarizer filter
- Tripod (very small one, yes I know a solid one would be better)
- slide film (mostly 100 ISO, maybe some 200 ISO)
- b/w film if necessary
- spare memory cards.