A Taste of Islamic Cairo

A Taste of Islamic Cairo-Al Azhar Park | Photography Behind the Scenes and Tips |

I’ve spent the past few months getting ready for an international move, doing the move, and then settling in to our new home in Cairo, Egypt. But now I should be posting much more frequently again.

The above photo is from Al-Azhar Park in Islamic Cairo. This was taken on the Western end of the park by the Ayyubid Wall that was discovered during the excavation and creation of the park (open to the public in 2005). The Ayyubid Dynasty began in 1171 AD by Salah al-Din. He expanded Cairo’s fortifications, started the Citadel, and built the Ayyubid Wall between 1176 and 1183 AD.  The goal of the wall was to create a fortification as protection against invaders. However, over the centuries, the city expanded outside of the walls.

Back to the photo, one thing I like about this one in particular are the leading lines made by the path and the wall. It guides the eye to look at all the buildings. When you take photos, think about how lines can help guide your eye throughout the image.


Black and White vs Color


One decision you need to make when editing is whether the image works better in color or black and white. This is mostly a personal preference and not everyone will pick the same option. In the shot above from a house boat ride near Alleppey, Kerala, India I prefer the black and white version. The trees stand out against a pale sky and draw attention to themselves. High contrast photos tend to work well as black and white. If you find that a photo has too much noise or grain in it, it might work better as black and white. I also will convert to black and white if I ended up with too many blown highlights (aka the light or white parts of the image got too bright to fix as the details are lost and you see pure white). Blown highlights don’t stand out as much in a black and white image.

So which image do you prefer above? The black and white or the color? Do you ever convert to black and white?


White Balance or Is the Color Right?


I was editing some recent snow photos and noticed the blue tint on all of them. This is a common issue with snow pictures and one I wanted to correct so the snow looked more white than blue-grey. Luckily it was a minor color cast and one I could fix quickly.

White balance is something you can play around with in editing to adjust the mood of the photo, especially if no people are in the shot. If you have people, you don’t want to veer too far from a correct white balance or skin looks off and weird. But if you don’t have people, you can make photos warmer or cooler to change the mood. It’s also a way to make sunsets warmer.

So how can you correct white balance?

If you’ve already taken the photo, all editing software has options to fix white balance, though how you get to it varies. I find the editing software built into Photos on a Mac works well. You go to “adjust” then “add” then “white balance.” From there you can adjust based on a neutral grey or skin tone. Use the dropper to pick the neutral grey or the skin and it adjusts from there. You can always keep selecting to get it perfect.

If you don’t have software, then I find PicMonkey does a good job. It’s a free online site for editing. White balance is under their “color” option.

There are many ways to adjust white balance in camera, which of course saves time in post processing. This article discusses some of those.


Whimsical Pottery Turtles


Most of what the potters made in their village near New Delhi, India was practical or religious (about 85% according to my guide). However, the remaining items were whimsical, fun, decorative, or impractical items. These turtles caught my eye as cute little additions for a shelf.

Bonus photography tip: Notice how the turtles are not centered in the frame? Picture a grid with four lines-two horizontal and two vertical. It is often ideal to place the most important part of an image at the intersection of two of those lines-or slightly off center.


How Zooming Changes Shots


You can get two very different shots by zooming in. That really isn’t a surprise as zooming gives you a more narrow angle of view. But, did you know that the simple act of zooming can also blur the background? In the two photos above, the settings are almost identical and I’m standing in the same spot. The only thing that changes is how much I zoomed. The background in the photo on the left is nice, but if there was something there you didn’t want showing up, the simple act of zooming in would blur it.


Photographing the Moon


I went out to shoot the super moon last night. It wasn’t something I had really planned, nor was I in the best location. Kids had gone to bed, so I went out to our front yard with my tripod to shoot. We had no clouds (both good and bad–could see the moon, but nothing else interesting was in the sky) and it was too high to get any skyline.

But, it did make me interested in how to get a moon shot. I used my 75-300 mm lens at 300. If you’re lucky enough to have interesting skyline, you might be shooting close to the 75 mm range. I’d heard about the Looney 11 Rule from some photographer friends. It basically means to set your f-stop to f/11, your ISO to 100 and your shutterspeed to 1/100. If your ISO doesn’t go to 100, then do 200 and a shutterspeed of 1/200. From there you may have to adjust your settings up or down a bit, but it’s a good start. I did exactly the f/11, ISO 100 and 1/100 settings for my shot above.

Here is a great article with some other moon shooting tips.


Finding good shots in “bad” spots


I don’t normally post pictures of my kids on the blog seeing as my focus is travel photography. However, this shot illustrates a good point so I figured I’d roll with it.

Often when traveling, or taking photos in general, you either find a great scene that’s “ruined” by something (big trash can in the middle, wires going this way and that, too many people, etc) or you have a picture in your mind and can’t find the right scene for it. How can you make a subpar picture great?

For the above shot, I knew I wanted a fall photo of my daughter with the colorful trees. But it needed to be in a safe spot for a 3 year old to run around (the ideal scene I found was right by a busy road and wouldn’t work with a child) and the tree needed to be low enough for her to reach. We took a walk around the neighborhood and I finally found the right tree. I zoomed all the way in to blur the background some (made the house harder to see) and to naturally crop out an old fence, the paved walking path, and some electrical boxes. Then I laid down on my stomach so that she’d fill the frame and it wouldn’t look like I shot down on her. It also allowed me to get the pretty leaves on the ground.

How does this translate to travel photography?

If you want to eliminate something in the background, try zooming all the way in. This helps blur out what’s in the back and makes it less obvious.

If zooming doesn’t work, try a short depth of field (set your f-stop to a really low number). This also blurs the background.

Try lying down, crouching, or climbing on top of something to get a different angle. Be safe, though! You might be able to eliminate the problem items.

Try shooting only part of a scene, building or landscape. If you can’t get a decent shot of the whole cathedral because of renovation work or the crowds of people, try for zooming in to just the bell tower or even just a gargoyle. Give a taste of the whole.

If you can, think about time of day. The best light according to most photographers is the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. Of course, you can get great photos other times, but the lighting is very flattering those times. The above shot was about 1.5 hrs before sunset and gave a special glow.


Symmetry and Fall Leaves


I love fall and I love colorful leaves. They make for such interesting shots! Being farther north, fall hit Minneapolis earlier than it hit Virginia so I got to go leave hunting while there. I noticed leaves scattered on a wooden walkway along the Mississippi River and realized it could make a cool shot. I found a leave I liked and cleared a spot on the path. Laid it down symmetrically and fired off shots before the wind could blow it away! All I needed to do edit-wise was a hint of straightening to get my lines truly vertical.

Symmetry can make for very interesting shots. If you have something symmetrical (or mostly symmetrical) like a leaf, try finding a symmetrical background like I did and center it. Or you can take a non-symmetrical object and put it on a symmetrical background. The lines between the boards above also add interest.


Shooting the Little Things


I was so excited to head to Minneapolis, Minnesota for a wedding sans children. Not only does that make staying out late easier, but it meant I got uninterrupted photography time! Taking photos while wearing a baby on your back or trying to keep a preschooler out of the creek doesn’t always lead to quality work. We took a walk through the Minnehaha Regional Park. Along with grand shots of waterfalls, I kept my eyes open for the little things like the seed balls in the shot above. I didn’t have my macro lens with me, but my 28-105mm let me get close enough. If you zoom all the way out, you can get the lovely background blur that I did. This was shot at 105 mm to get the blur and f7.1 to keep enough of the shot sharp.

If you don’t have the chance to travel or your vacations tend to be at Gramma’s house, can you still find cool shots? Of course! Close ups, tight framing, and creative angles can all give you fun, unique shots without leaving your town or even yard.  Look down when walking through woods or fields or your backyard to find mushrooms, seed pods, plants and bugs. Look in trees for animals, birds, bark, flowers, and leaves. Look on sidewalks, fences, houses and decks for interesting patterns. I love to take my camera outside in the yard when the kids are playing and see what I can find.