When I think about travel photography, I often envision goals that I want to achieve. Just like setting goals in my personal life, I set goals as a creative.

One of the toughest challenges of travel photography is the unknown. I often don’t know if or when I will be able to take the perfect shot because of all the variables—like schedules, weather, and lighting—that affect the shooting conditions. Having to adapt in the moment to constantly changing conditions keeps me on my toes.

Honestly, I get nervous. Nervous that I will not be able to capture the photo I envision because of some outside variable I can’t control. The last two years of traveling have taught me to keep things simple and go with the flow.

I share all of this because Adobe asked me to choose an image that embodies my travel photography and I’m incredibly excited to take you behind the scenes of my photo above of the Chicago Skyline.

Here’s a rundown of the shoot:

Backstory
Last year, I took a helicopter tour of San Francisco (before I started using Adobe Lightroom) and was incredibly frustrated by the results of my photos. Most were blurry, couldn’t be corrected in post-production, and didn’t capture what I’d experienced.

I have been wanting a chance to overcome those challenges ever since.

A few months ago, the perfect opportunity presented itself when I was invited to go on a sunset helicopter tour of Chicago for a travel campaign. My stomach dropped instantly. Limited time, low light, dark skylines, shaky environment, cramped spaces, and expected to create a beautiful image — see where I’m going? It’s always a challenge to get the perfect shot, and the pressure compounds when work depends on it.

Despite the pressure, this time I knew that I had the knowledge and tools to capture the travel photo I envisioned.

Preparation
I had a clear vision of the photo I wanted to create before arriving to the tour: A sunset shot of the skyline where the lights of the buildings were lit up. The photo would be natural and an accurate representation of what it felt like to be on board.

This was my first trip to Chicago, and I knew that we would be doing this sunset helicopter ride around the city. Before arriving on location, I often will look through social or photos online to get inspiration. This time I even researched how to perfect photography in a helicopter. I knew I needed to set my ISO higher to accommodate for the lower light, but wanted to learn more about how to perfect an image from such an amazing opportunity. It was one of the first shoots where I truly mentally prepared for capturing a specific photo I was envisioning.

The gear
I was traveling in just a carry-on (I typically travel really light) and had my base camera gear with me: Sony a7ii Body + Sony 28–70mm Lens.

The shoot
The minute we got into the helicopter I immediately found the best angle to shoot through the glass so there wouldn’t be any glare or reflections. I quickly tested a few settings, found the one I was going to stick with, and shot away. I took around 250 images in a 15-minute helicopter tour to give myself plenty of options when I came time to select the best frames in Lightroom.

I captured the above shot with the following:
+ Camera: Sony a7ii
+ Lens: Sony 28-70mm at 28mm
+ IS0: 800
+ Shutter Speed: 1/100
+ Aperture: f/3.5

Post processing
As I brought the image into Lightroom, I immediately went to work on the lighting. The temperature needed to be cooler so it wasn’t too warm. I wanted to accentuate the sunset in the distance, so I slid the saturation up. To get the buildings to pop, I enhanced the whites and blacks. The finishing touches included turning the highlights down, pushing the shadows up so it would be brighter.

Here’s a snapshot of where most of the editing took place. You’ll see that I kept editing minimal

The before:

The after:

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For my editing style, I love to keep it as natural as possible. Making a few minimal changes that help the photo pop more and have cooler tones, allows me to maintain a consistent style across all my photos. This is one thing I love about using Lightroom: The ability to make minimal changes with big impact. The photo doesn’t need to be completely reconstructed; a few intentional adjustments can really enhance an image. As a travel photographer, it’s important to me that the images are approachable and realistic expressions of the actual experience. Representing an authentic experience is the core ethos that guides my travel photography.

Overcoming the challenge of low light and using Lightroom gave me an opportunity to feel more confident in taking on work projects like this. You can find my top travel photography tips and read more about my journey of getting into travel photography here

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*This post was created through sponsored partnership with Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Tools, Lightroom and Photoshop.

4 Comments

  1. I enjoyed seeing your adjustments to the photo – thanks for sharing! I use the built-in editing on Mac – many similarities to Lightroom.

  2. Martin Harvey Reply

    Thanks for the post and reminding us that editing can be simple! These days, I use a Fuji X system and am loving its spectacular quality and portability. Yes, one can achieve a lot with the basic panel and then copy and paste these settings onto any other like photos saving effort. On this image, I might have been tempted to try the graduated filter.
    Thank you.

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