July 2, 2020

How to take better photos in Thailand

How to pack some vacation photo punch? While I hate travelling with "gear", I recommend any or all of the following additions to your photography arsenal.

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4 easy ways to take better photos

How to pack some vacation photo punch? While I hate travelling with "gear", I really recommend any or all of the following additions to your photography arsenal. They're all tiny and very packable – but let you get a lot more from even your phone camera. I'm rather dedicated to sunset photos – a labour of love that sees me regularly attached to a tripod. While Koh Samui sunsets are a subject worthy of lengthy study – a few quick photography tips will make a big difference between mediocre snapshots and the money shots.

1. On the water (and under the sea)

Pack: Waterproof phone case

Instantly turn your phone into an underwater camera. One of these cases is ideal for taking underwater photos when snorkelling, not to mention surviving Thailand's other watery aspects: rainy season, Songkran and your hotel swimming pool. You can thank me later.

2. Clever tricks up your sleeve

Pack: Waterproof camera float

An underwater camera is one thing – digital drowning, quite another. Once you've waterproofed your phone, a waterproof camera float means it's never going deeper than you intend. Ideal for, ahem, the clumsy amongst us.

3. Room for error

Pack: A micro SD card

True story: I once ran out of room on my camera's card during a friend's wedding ceremony. Sub-optimal. An enormous SD card is an easy way to ensure your practice shots won't get in the way when The Sunset Of A Lifetime happens.

4. Polarising filter

Pack: Polarizing lens for GoPro and/or DSLR camera

Behold! Beautiful water, bright skies and the puffiest clouds. With tremendous contrast wherever you look, Thailand is perfect for polarizing. Whereas polarizing filters used to be for serious photographers with grown-up cameras, this "why didn't we think of that" GoPro attachment means you can tuck pro polarizing tricks in your pocket.

For an SLR camera, Hoya Polarizer Filters turn a beach or boat shot into a magical aquatic wonderland. If you’ve ever wondered how professional photographers get the sky to look so blue and the puffy white clouds to pop, a polarising filter is a crucial tool to enable you to do both, and more.

How to use a polarising filter

Pack: Persol Pilot Polarized Sunglasses

What does a polarising filter do? You may have heard of polarising sunglasses. A polarised lens helps to cut down reflections, glare, and generally makes scenery more vibrant. They’re especially useful on the water, as you can now peer into the shallows no matter how bright the sun is.

A polarising filter uses exactly the same principle – but for your camera. My polarising filter is a crucial part of my "bag of secret tricks" for taking better beach pictures. Like many people, I like ‘Hoya’ brand polarising filters. This is roughly equivalent to saying "I like Aston Martin cars" – Hoya's filters are good.

How to use a polarising filter?

1. The right time of day: They work best when the sun is directly to your left or right when you’re composing the shot. For this reason, they’re best used in the morning or late afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky.‍

2. Not at noon: Most photographers agree that midday is a bane to taking good photos, and polarising filters are no exception. When the sun is directly overhead, the polarisation will be minimal. Just wait a couple hours, and try again.‍

3. The right rotation: The most common type is a circular polarising filter. Depending on the orientation of the filter, you may find that you have to rotate it as much as 90° to see the effect. Take care, because this means that if you swing the camera from landscape to portrait, you’ll have to give the filter a quarter turn for it to work.

How to choose a polarising filter?

First, make sure your camera can take a filter. If you have an SLR, this is an unqualified yes. On the front of the lens, you’ll find a few narrow screw threads – simple screw the filter on the front and away you go. If you tend to rely on your phone's camera most of the time, this smartphone polarizer lens is pretty exciting news (and very packable).‍

Get the right size: If you're getting a filter for your SLR, make sure you buy the right diameter for your lens. 52mm and 58mm are common sizes, but lenses can be as wide as 72mm or as narrow as 40mm.‍

Polarising alternatives for point-and-shoots?There may still be hope. Certain ‘prosumer’ cameras, larger than a point and shoot, but smaller than an SLR, have a hidden thread to accept an adapter, which will then take a filter.

Even if you’ve got a small point-and-shoot, you’re not excluded from the world of polarisation – you may just need to take a more DIY approach. You can simply hold the filter in front of the lens, or even use a pair of polarising sunglasses.

Whether you want to take to the water with your camera or snap happily from somewhere as gorgeous as Koh Samui – a polarising filter could be your favourite holiday toy. Add one to your Thailand packing list, and look forward to much-improved beach and ocean photos. Enjoy!