Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Travel Photography How-to Week. Day 2: Breaking A Rule - One of My Rules

Those of you who listen to the PhotoFocus podcast that I do with Scott Bourne know that one of my favorite photo expressions is: Exposure for Highlights – meaning that you don’t want the highlights in the scene overexposed and washed out. Expose for the Highlights was the credo for slide film shooters, too!

Exposing for the highlights is a basic guideline. For example, if you are photographing a cityscape, seascape or landscape, you want to exposure for the brightest part of the scene – even though in ACR, Lightroom, Aperture and other RAW converters – you can recover up to about one stop of over exposed areas (from a RAW file). If the highlights are overexposed, by more than one stop, they probably will be gone and lost forever.

Well, friends, like all photo rules, this one is meant to be broken, too.

This picture, one of my favorites from a trip to Cuba, illustrates my point. Had I exposed for the highlights – the windows – the young couple, with their beaming faces, would have been way too dark.

The story behind the photo: While I was walking down a street in Old Havana before sunrise, I spotted two cool, vintage blue cars. I experimented with creative composition and got the shot you see here.

After shooting for a while, several people started getting in the shot in the distance, “ruining” my picture. However, keeping in mind that photo opps are everywhere, I walked up to the car and noticed the cute young couple that had just jumped in the back seat. I asked if I could pop in for a photo – using sign language because I don’t speak Spanish. Okay was the answer. I jumped in the front set and fired off a quick shot – because the car was running and I felt that the people wanted to leave in a hurry.

Sure, I could have used a flash to balance the inside light to the outside light – but I think that would have destroyed the spontaneity and feeling of the moment. Also, I kinda like the way the couple is surrounded by the bright windows.

And by the way… did you notice the interior of this car? Looks at all the stuff that is missing!

Hey, if you don’t agree on all this, let me know – as always. Either way, I love this photograph because it not only captures the couple totally at ease with a total stranger, but it also illustrates the all-important point in travel photography: it never hurts to ask. And… I guess it also illustrates one of my photo skills – photographing strangers in strange lands.

If you want to learn more about light, check out my book: Exploring the Light.

I hope you enjoy this week’s photos and the tips. If you want some hands-on experience, hope you can join one of my workshops.

If you are interested in joining one of my Cuba Workshops (after it opens and Americans can go legally (you need a license from the U.S Treasury Department now), keep checking my Events page.

Explore the light,


Michael Van der Tol said...

Hey Rick, I definitely agree that exposing for the highlights would have made your subjects way too dark. But even more important is that by exposing for the subjects you also removed any distracting elements that may have appeared through the windows for the car.

Great blog as usual.

John said...

I think the picture is excellent. I have a general question about people pictures. You obviously ask for permission but what about releases? Do you need those for people on the street or in a house in Trinidad or just for professional models?

Sean said...

I was going to ask the exact same question. Your description sounds like you jumped in, took the shot and they left, but I've also heard of travel photographers that carry releases in their bag. Is there a general guideline when a release is required?

Rick Sammon said...

Sometimes I get releases, sometimes I don't....

About the windows... I actually did not realize that.. so thank you Michael.

JB said...

I'm probably just an ignorant novice who will learn differently in the end, but I break this rule almost always (on purpose). I suppose it all boils down to subject, but I have no qualms whatsoever about blowing out irrelevant highlights. Then again, I refuse to use my little on-camera flash and also refuse to carry one around with me.

Peter West said...

Rick: I'm planning a 10 to 14 day photo vacation in Cuba this winter (I'm Canadian and know zero Spanish). Any thoughts or tips. Trinidad is on my list of places to visit. Thinking of renting a car. Peter (peter@peterwest.ca)

Rick Sammon said...

hi peter... get a driver... don't drive.. bring more $$$ than you think you'll need. have a blast!

website design said...

so you just stepped inside the car along with the couple inside? good thing they didnt got scared or somethin..

im not that brave enough to take people's photos. i should break that and be brave enough...