Monk teaching school students at Wat Umong, Chiang Mai, Thailand

How to Be Better Prepared to Take Great Photos

How to Be Better Prepared to Take Great Photos

How can you always be prepared to take your next best ever photograph?

The short answer is “You can’t be!” Not always, not for every situation. No matter how organized you. No matter how many times you have checked your photoshoot preparation checklist. Being prepared is more of a long-term commitment to knowing how to use your camera blended with your ability to interact with and respond to your environment.

Being prepared means knowing your camera and how to adjust the settings quickly whenever you need to. I need to know how to adjust my dslr camera settings for different situations as they occur. This does come mostly through practice, but initially, it comes with some study of your camera. If you have a new camera get the manual out and read it while you have your camera in your hands. Doing this you will learn where all the controls are – especially those used to make a well exposed photograph – your shutter speed, aperture, ISO and exposure meter controls. Once you have studied these and are familiar with how they function, practice using them. Before long you will be able to set your camera quickly without having to think which way the dials turn to increase or decrease the exposure. You will be able to choose your settings and make a well exposed photograph every time.

Whenever you head out to take some photos be sure to set your camera to the approximate correct exposure for the lighting conditions – even before you lift your camera to your eye. If you have your settings close to where they need to be you can make adjustments quickly if you need to. When you change locations and the light is significantly different be sure to adjust your settings again so you can be ready to shoot.

Monk teaching school students at Wat Umong, Chiang Mai, ThailandRecently I was shooting in the underground tunnels at Wat Umong and had my camera set for the dark interior of the tunnels. As we emerged from the tunnels I was busy teaching a customer during a travel photography workshop and did not make the adjustment to my camera’s settings to be ready to shoot outside. As we approached the steps a monk walked in front of us and was nicely isolated against the dark background of the large trees. I’ve got lots of photos of monks they are great subjects, but these days I don’t photograph them unless the situation is particularly photogenic – this one was. As I brought my camera up to my eye I realized my exposure settings were still set for indoors and a long way off for the light outside. Quickly I brought my shutter speed to 1/500th of a second and altered the aperture a little to f2.8 and took two shots. When I looked at the image on the camera monitor I thought it was too underexposed, maybe 1/250th or 1/125th of a second would have been a better shutter speed choice.

A few days later I decided to see if I could rescue the image, so I began to work with it on my computer. I lifted the exposure value and highlights a little and dialed down the blacks, to get the background nice and dark. I cloned out a few minor distractions and selectively darkened the path. I am pleased with the results.

I only managed to get this one shot before the monk walked down the steps and his feet and legs were no longer visible to me. If I had set my camera as we came out of the tunnels so it was prepared for the outside lighting conditions I would have had more chance of shooting at least one or two more frames. I told myself again “Kevin, be prepared!”

Buddhist monk walking at Wat Umong, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Please take a look at our Manual Camera Settings Cheat Sheet Infographic for Photography Beginners. This can be used with any cameras – Nikon dslr, Canon dslr, Olympus mirrorless, Sony camera, Fuji, Lumix … what ever camera system you own. This ISO, aperture, shutter speed chart pdf will be of great help to you as you begin to understand your camera settings. It’s almost like a camera tutorial for beginners as it shows you clearly how to adjust the settings. This cheat sheet will guide to choose things like your f stop for low light and your shutter speed for a moving subject.

View The Cheat Sheet

man on a motorcycle with a side car full of trays of eggs

Be Patient and Anticipate

It's very easy to be a snap shooter, especially when you are traveling. Being out and about away from your normal walk in life, you see more things that are different and interesting. It's very easy just to grab a quick snapshot and move on. However, if you take your time to look at your subject, consider where the light is coming from and how it falls on your subject. Move your point of view to find the best spot to shoot from. Change you point of view - lying on the ground or crouching down may give you a far more interesting perspective. Rather than grabbing a quick snap, take a little time to make a more striking photograph.

Be aware of the background. Look at it carefully as you move around your subject. Is the background distracting? Will it be less distracting if you move to your left or right? If you move up or down?

man on a motorcycle with a side car full of trays of eggs

Once you've chosen your angle, wait. Is there some movement or action that will happen to make your photo more interesting and tell more of a story? Take you time, be patient, wait for a decisive moment to shoot your photo. Don't just take one shot either, keep shooting until you are satisfied you have at least one or two good photos.

Photographing the historic White Chedi near Muang Mai Market in Chiang Mai early one morning I chose my angle, framed it up and shot a nice balanced image. Then I waited. I knew if I stopped there a while I would be able to include something else in the photograph to tell more of a story. Before long a tuktuk passed - flying a Thai flag, which added even more to the shot than I had anticipated. The tuktuk was perfect because it is so synonymous with Chiang Mai. My timing could have been a little better to have the tuktuk centered against the chedi. A tricycle taxi, red taxi truck or market vendor with their motorcycle over laden with produce would have served well to enhance my photo also. Just the chedi on it's own is a nice image, but being patient and anticipating that the right traffic passing would add story to my photograph has made it a stronger picture.

historic white chedi in Chiang Mai, Thailand


tricycle taxi rider, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Tuktuks, Temple, Monks and Markets

Tuktuks, temples, monks and markets are all great to photograph when you come to Chiang Mai, but there are other fabulous photo opportunities to discover in Thailand’s ‘Rose of the North’.

Frequently I encourage people not to be travel snap shooters. Don’t rely on your subject to make a strong photo. Take your time, think about lighting, background, timing and composing an interesting image.

Sure, when you visit Chiang Mai, you have to get a photo of a tuktuk, because they are an iconic part of the city’s character. So why not hire one to transport you to some photogenic locations you can use as backdrops for your tuktuk photos?

Start at Wat Chedi Luang in the heart of the old city. Get your driver to park in front of the main temple building for a photo and then head behind to photograph the tuktuk in front of the chedi as well. Doing this you are creating more interesting photos of both tuktuk and temple.

Wat Sisuphan is another of my favorite temples to photograph in Chiang Mai, especially at night when they have the ordination hall lit up. Saturday evening is your best bet to see the lights which scroll through many different colors making the building look almost surreal.

Another superb night photo opportunity is the historic Iron Bridge which is also wonderfully lit up every night. From the east end of the bridge looking back towards the Bus Bar is a good angle to capture the beautifully lit structure and the reflection of the lights in the Ping River.

The north east corner of the moat with the old city wall is another place to get a real classic Chiang Mai photo. Again, it’s great at dusk and also worth taking a look at in the the day time. If you position yourself right you can line your shot up to include part of the old wall, the moat and one of the fountains and see the mountain in the background.

If you are an early riser one of the best places to photographs monks is on Huey Keow Road near the zoo. Each morning at dawn many monks walk down from Wat Si Soda to receive alms from the faithful. The most important thing to remember about photographing monks (or any people) is to be respectful and not interrupt or disturb them in any way.

After this you can head over to the Warorot Market for another classic Chiang Mai photo – the samloor riders. A samloor is a tricycle taxi, and a fading part of Chiang Mai’s culture because young men are not taking up this occupation. The hard working gentlemen are always ready with a smile and generally don’t mind posing for a few photos. I always like to tip them well!

Right there on the opposite corner you’ll find a mass of color that’s begging to be photographed in the flower market. Be careful as you go not to step back into the traffic while you get lost in the beauty of the blooms. Get in tight and focus as close as you can to capture the color and texture of the bouquets.

Of course there’s many more places around the city to get great photos, but these I find to be some of the most stimulating environments to document the look and feel of Chiang Mai. If want to learn how to best capture these memories of your visit booking a photo workshop is a sure way to gain some new skills and creative insights.


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