10 Countries, 10 Days, 10 Tips: Day 3 - Mongolia

Photograph by Rick Sammon

It's Day 3 of my series on travel photography here on my blog.

Location: Mongolia.

Tip: Plan your trip for June.

Each June, the Nadaam festival takes place just outside of Ulan Bator, Mongolia’s capital. During the festival,  500 or so soldiers from the Mongolian army get dressed up like the soldiers in Genghis Khan army and put on a spectacular reinactment. Witnessing the festival, you can see why at one time Khan’s army scared the hell out just about everyone in its path.
Do you homework on the web. Note the show hours. Find out the earliest possible arrival time so you can get in a good shooting position. The more you plan, the fewer surprises you’ll have on site.

Photograph by Rick Sammon
On site, ask for a general timeline of events. This info will help you plan your day so you don’t miss festival highlights. In addition, take behind-the-scenes shots of performers getting ready. Ask if that’s okay and find out where to shoot.

Here are my recommendations for sharp shots of fast-paced action: set your shutter speed to 1/1000th of a second to freeze action, set your auto focus to AI Servo or Continuous Focus to track a moving subject, and set your frame rate to the max for the greatest number of frames per second.

When it comes to choosing an exposure mode, go for Shutter Priority. In that mode, once your shutter speed is set to 1/1000th of a second, if the light level changes, the shutter speed will remain at 1/1000th of a second. To get that fast of a shutter speed, on a cloudy day you may need to boost your ISO to 400, 800 or even 1000.  Don’t worry about shooting at high ISO settings. If digital noise is added, you can reduce it in Photoshop and Lightroom. 

Lens recos for photographing festivals:

Canon 70-200 f/4 IS lens
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 IS lens

If you like traveling and photography, check out my workshops and photo tours.

If you'd like travel tips at your fingertips, check out my apps.

Explore the light,

Photograph by Rick Sammon
P.S. Explore the countryside, too. You'll find many more people photography opportunities. While in Ulan Bator, take in a cultural show.

Photograph by Rick Sammon

Set Specific Goals

In photography (as well as in life, of course), it's very important to set goals. If you don't set goals, how do you know where you are going?

Here is an example of what I mean.

While teaching a private workshop in Mongolia, the student and I had the opportunity to get the shot that every horse photographer wants to get: a shot of the horse with all the hooves off the ground.

To get the shot, I told the student that we had to (and you can use these tips when photographing fast-moving subjects):

1) Set our Canon 5D cameras to the AI Servo focus mode - which tracks a moving subject right up until the moment of exposure.

2) Choose the rapid frame advance mode.

3) Compose the scene (using our Canon 100-400mm IS lenses) with lots of space around the subject – so no important parts were cut off.

4) Choose a shooting position where the light was just right.

5) Carefully watch the background so that the subject was completely isolated.

6) Take several series of images to ensure at least one good shot.

7) Use a shutter speed of at least 1/000th of a second to freeze the action.

8) Shoot with both eyes open - so we could see if something was coming into the frame that would ruin our pictures.

9) Check all our camera settings (ISO, Image Quality, white balance, etc.) to get the best possible in-camera exposure.

• • •

Setting the specific goal beforehand, and going through the motions of taking the shot in our hotel rooms, we became comfortable with the process. When we got on site, we practiced the process again and again - before the show.

All our practicing made getting the shot relatively easy - again, because we set a specific goal.

So . . . I told this story to my students while teaching a workshop at the Light Photographic Workshops in Los Osos, CA. The next day were were going to photograph horses running on the beach.

Guess what? They all set goals . . . and they all got the shot.

Explore the light,

P.S. Here is a joke that's kinda related to setting goals: Christopher Columbus.... When he left the Old World, he did not know where he was going. When he got there, he did not know where he was. When he got back, he did not know where he had been. So much for setting goals :-)