Saturday, January 26, 2013

Picture Taking Tips on Biblical Site Tours - Part 2

In the previous post, I expanded on some of the excellent points about picture taking made by Charles Savelle. In this post, I'll add a few additional observations of my own that arise more from my experience than because of my expertise.

What kind of camera should I use? You may already have a camera you like, but if you don't, here are some things to consider.
  • Today's compact point-and-shoot cameras are incredibly capable. They really can do just about everything and take very good quality pictures. Probably a key factor in your decision initially will be price. You will pretty much get what you are willing to pay for. I wouldn't worry so much about the number of megapixels. Pretty much any camera with 12mp or more is going to be fine. Another key factor is size of the camera. Do you want one that is very compact and pocketable but sacrifices a few features? Or are you willing to get a somewhat larger camera? If so, the main thing you will gain is zooming capability. Most point-and-shoot cameras start with 24-28mm at their wide end. (Ranges are usually measured in terms of their 35mm film equivalent, and at the wide end, the lower the number the better.) I think most people would be satisfied with a camera that has 5-7x zoom, but 10x or more zoom will give you more options. I doubt that you will need the 50x zoom some of today's cameras are capable of, but they are available. One other factor that is important to me is having a camera with a viewfinder. I find it hard to hold the camera in front of me to shoot, and it can be really hard to see the screen in bright light. HERE are some point-and-shoot cameras to check that have viewfinders. My daughter went on a mission trip to Africa this past summer, and she got excellent pictures from a Panasonic Lumix FZ47 12.1Mp camera with 24x zoom. Check reviews on Amazon or a site like DPReview to get more info on cameras you are considering.
  • UPDATE 2016.11: The camera market has changed considerably in 3 years. I now recommend that you start with this Digital Photography Review Buying Guide to start finding the best camera for you. I now use a Pentax K-30 with a Pentax 18-135mm lens, and this combination has the benefit of being weather-resistant. I.e., I can shoot in the rain and snow.
  • Given the quality you can get with a point-and-shoot, what's the advantage of getting a larger DSLR camera for which you use interchangeable lenses? First, you should be able to get higher quality photos simply from the technology used. In particular, a DSLR should be able to do much better in low light situations, especially if you save your pics as RAW rather than just JPEGs. Second, you can be more particular about the kinds of pictures and how you want them to look because you are able to use a lens that is best suited for a particular type of photo. Of course this all means more money and more equipment and more weight to carry around. Personally I use a Pentax K-x which is one of the smaller, entry-level DSLRs (now discontinued and replaced with the K-30). From my experience, I've ended up using a relatively light and simple kit that has an 18-135mm lens (27-202mm 35mm equiv) and a ultrawide angle 10-20mm (15-30mm 35mm equiv) lens. The 18-135 is used for 75% of my pics. For touring biblical sites and getting interior shots in close quarters, I've found that I've wanted a wider angle lens more than I've needed a longer telephoto. (I do often carry around a 55-300mm = 78-450mm equiv for telephoto needs.)
  • UPDATE 2016.11: I've also found that I needed a faster lens (i.e., a lower base f-stop number) to get pictures of artifacts in museums where--if pictures are allowed at all--flash is not allowed. My fastest lens is a 50mm f1.8, but that's a bit long for many indoors shots, so I've ended up using a 35mm f2.4. Money is the limitation on getting faster lenses.
Know your camera! Don't buy a DSLR just before you go and expect to get good pictures. Even with a point-and-shoot, however, you really need to have some practice with it and familiarize yourself with the camera's features. Check out all the modes that are available. Know the limitations of flash. If the camera allows for some manual selections know when and how to use them. One of the really handy features on many newer cameras is a panorama feature that allows you to scan across a scene, so know how to do it. (While handy, the result is a lower resolution photo. To get better quality, know how to take a sequence of shots and plan to stitch them together later using software.) Going to a different timezone, know how to change it.

What other gear do I need?
  • Unless you have a pocketable camera, spend some attention on a camera bag that you like and can use effectively. Do you want something hanging around your neck or shoulder or around your waist? Personally, I don't like a bag bouncing around at my front or side, so I prefer a waist-pack or a sling bag. The advantage of these is that you can swing them around to get at your gear and have both your hands free. 
  • As noted before, bring plenty of memory cards.
  • If your camera can accept it, a hood for the lens is very helpful. Another item to consider is a circular polarizing filter. There is usually lots of bright sun, and it will help to use these to cut down glare and flare.
  • Cleaning supplies: A small microfiber cloth will be handy to have, and a LensPen is also crucial. With an interchangeable lens system, bring along a rocket blower too. There's plenty of dust around to get in your camera.
  • Batteries and charger! Make sure you have a backup battery set. Also make sure that your charger will work on non-USA electrical systems and that you have the proper adapter to let you plug it in.
  • Tripod? It's a nice idea and is important for critical photography, but... I don't think you'll use it. For one, it does take up room in your luggage. (So, if you do get one, make sure it's one that folds down small enough to fit in your luggage.) Second, and more importantly, I don't think you'll have time to use it. When you are with a tour group, you are usually moving right along, and you just don't have to set up. (If you're traveling on your own schedule, then do consider bringing one.) As an option that I have used, consider instead bringing a monopod. They are lots easier to carry and faster/easier to use. They are especially useful if you have a long zoom and need some extra stability. Want something even more portable but still functional? Try a cheap, DIY string tripod!
  • Flash? Again, a nice idea, but I've just not been able to justify the weight and bulk. In most instances, if you need more than the built-in flash on your camera, you probably need to be serious about the lighting. Using an external flash takes some practice to get things right, so if you do bring one, know what you are doing. Workaround: I added a 'flashlight' app to my smartphone, and in smaller dark settings, it really helped.
  • Other stuff: If your camera is able to use a remote control, they are pretty small to bring along and may come in handy. I also put a bunch of business cards in my camera bag. They help identify my gear, but if I take pics of people, I can give them my card, and they can email me if they want me to send them the pic.
Practice photography etiquette.
  • If you are at a site and lots of people are trying to take a picture, take your picture and then get out of the way.
  • Be aware of when you can (or should) use flash. Many museums do not allow it.
  • Is your bright screen disruptive? Turn it off.
  • Does your camera make a noticeable sound when taking a picture? See if you can turn off beeps and such or don't shoot when it may disturb others.
  • Stay on the paths where requested. Don't be risking your life or endangering ancient artifacts by climbing up somewhere. In Israel, when the sign says to stay out because there are potentially landmines present, obey the sign!
  • If taking pictures featuring people, get their permission if it feels like you are taking a specific picture of them. Oftentimes it simply means holding up your camera, nodding, and saying, "Photo?" Remember that the people live there. They are not there simply for your viewing pleasure.
  • If you are with a group, stay with the group. As a tour leader, I'm always conscious of people who are wandering off or who are delaying the whole group while taking pictures. Don't be that person who is always the one the rest of the group is waiting for.
  • I have mixed feelings about taking pictures while the tour guide is speaking. On one hand, you want to be polite, so don't be disruptive and make a scene while the guide is speaking. On the other hand, you paid for this trip and are paying for the guide, and the guide is usually hurrying the group along, and you really want to get some pictures. The best thing is simply to use good sense and practice common courtesy.
Consider using video or audio comments. You may not think so at the time, but I guarantee you will take photos that later you will not remember taking and not have a clue why you took it. One way I've used to remember what pictures I've taken is to shoot a short video of the scene and describe what's there. Most cameras these days also have a video feature or else use your smartphone. Some cameras allow you to add audio attachments to a photo. Also, take pics of signage.

Consider using GPS. If you want to remember where you were when you took a picture, use GPS. Some cameras these days have GPS included and while include the location data directly with the photo. If your camera doesn't have that feature, you still have some options:
  • One option is to use and Eye-Fi Pro X2 SD card. They are rather more expensive than regular SD cards, and their geotagging depends on wi-fi network positioning, so it is not likely to work well in remote locations.
  • Your smartphone or tablet probably has GPS capability, or maybe you are a runner and have a GPS watch. You can use these devices and free software like Runkeeper or Endomondo to map the path you took while going through a site. (HERE is an example of how I used it.) Then you can use Google Maps or Google Earth to retrace your steps. With some sites, Google Street View will even let you walk through the site, and you can confirm your pics. Check this post.
  • Even better, if you have a GPS device, you can automate the process. Make sure the time on your camera and your GPS are the same. Track your path and save/export the GPS file (GPX or TPX file) it generates. Then use the free Geosetter program which allows you to synchronize the GPS data with the timestamps on your pictures and automatically apply the location data to the metadata of the image file.
  • If you offload your pictures to a computer, most image software (e.g.Google Photos, Lightroom) allows you to pinpoint the photo location on a map. Another good option is Geotagger or Geosetter.
Have a 'theme' for your trip. If you don't want your pictures to look just like everyone else's, consider adopting a theme for your trip. Maybe you want to be especially attentive to taking pictures of food or including cats in the picture. (There are plenty of free-range cats and dogs in Turkey/Greece/Israel/Jordan/Palestine!) Or maybe look for a particular color. How about the ornate capitals on all the columns you are going to see. Maybe bring along some little token like a stuffed animal and include it in your pictures. One of the benefits of having some kind of theme like this is that I've found it helps me see more. Instead of being overwhelmed with all there is to see, I find I see more when I'm looking for something in particular.

Try to practice photography and not just take pictures. This is harder to do and is moving from simply documenting a site to trying to capture the essence of the site. Is there a photographic opportunity you see that with one picture will help you recall the experience of that site? Can you find a scene that tells a story related to the situation? Be aware of the light and shadows and lines and patterns. Here's where you start thinking more like a photographer and an artist than simply as a tourist.

Relate your picture taking to your devotional practice. If you have some kind of morning devotion, use that Scripture to inspire you throughout the day. Where does that Word of God connect with what you are seeing. I'm not thinking so much literally: it's a passage about Paul in Ephesus so you take a picture of Ephesus. Think spiritually and abstractly! How is what you read experienced in what you are seeing.

Enough of me. Some other basic picture taking tips here. If you have other good suggestions, please comment!

Picture Taking Tips on Biblical Site Tours - Part 1



Charles Savelle at BibleX has posted an excellent series on Picture Taking Tips for the Holy Land, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. [HT: Todd Bolen at BiblePlaces] You will want to read his full posts, but I'll simply bullet-point them here, and add some additional comments of my own. I'm not a professional photographer either, but I've been working on improving my photography, and I've taken enough trips and photos to have opinions and thoughts on the matter!

  1. Take pictures of signage. This is really helpful.
  2. Look behind you as well as ahead of you. And look up and down and to the sides!
  3. Don’t be afraid of having people in the pictures. In addition to the points that Savelle makes, remember that your trip is not simply a biblical / archaeological tour. It is also a cultural experience. Sometimes people can be the point of the picture.
  4. Decide why you are taking pictures. This is one of the most important points Savelle makes. Are you really going to want to look at all those pictures of rocks and ruins again? Is anyone else going to want to see all your pictures? What do you want to do with your pictures when you get home? Are you simply 'documenting' the site?
  5. Study what others have done. Great advice. It's another way to think about why you are taking pictures. With so many great pictures available for free on the Internet (do always check copyrights, but many really are free), is your time well spent trying to get a picture of something for which there are already hundreds of pictures? Or are you better off just observing and experiencing the site and the moment? People who aren't worried about getting pictures usually are a bit more relaxed and able to enjoy the site more!
  6. Ask the tour guide for suggestions.
  7. Have your camera ready and not tucked in your backpack. Indeed! I'll mention it again in point 11 below, but when I wasn't carrying my camera around, I usually was carrying my smartphone and could use its camera.
  8. Don’t forget to think small. Holy Land trips are basically large-scale affairs. Also keep in mind that the Bible talks about birds and flowers and insects. You might want to include these in your portfolio of pics. And the food! And the colors!
  9. Take more rather than fewer pictures. Yes, but delete and edit before you share them with others! I also recommend taking your pictures at the highest quality your camera allows. Yes, each photo will take up more space as a larger file, and thus you will need more memory cards, but it will be worth it. If you are really serious about photography, you probably know that you should be shooting RAW.
  10. Download and review your photos each night on a computer (if you bring one). This is hard to do when you are tired and have a busy schedule, but it is important. Savelle actually is talking about offloading pics from your memory card (in order to free space on it), but I think you are better off just downloading and leaving pics on the card. This way you will have a backup of your pictures if something should happen to the camera, the card, or your computer. Memory cards have become relatively inexpensive, so you really are better off just buying plenty of memory cards.
    Another option to consider is uploading your photos nightly to an online storage service like DropBox, SugarSync, Google Drive, or Windows SkyDrive. Of course using this option means that you are counting on having regular access to the web and the time to upload a few hundred megabytes of pictures each day.
    How much memory do you need? I probably take more pics than the average visitor, and on a two-week trip to sites in Turkey and Greece, using a DSLR 12Mp camera whose JPEG pictures were each about 5-6Mb in size, I took about 1800 pictures. (I.e., I averaged a little over 100 pics each day.) Total space used was less than 10Gb. A four-week trip in Israel ended up with over 3500 pics and less than 19Gb storage. [2016.11 UPDATE: I'm now using a better camera and shooting RAW pics. These are about 14MB/pic, so I'll be bringing more SD cards, but really my 64GB should be sufficient.] If you are able to back up your photos each day, you should consider just getting a 16Gb or 32Gb or 64Gb card and being able to keep all your photos for the whole trip on one card. If you won't be able to back up your photos, I'd recommend getting multiple 4Gb or 8Gb cards. That way, if something should happen to the camera or the card, you will at least have some photos still saved.
  11. Consider what you will do if your camera breaks on the trip. Yes, it happens. I have two backup plans. 1) I bring along my old 7Mp compact point-and-shoot which still does a serviceable job. 2) I don't use my smartphone for calling, but I can use the camera or video in a pinch.[2016.11 UPDATE: Smartphone cameras have really improved. They are also able to do all sorts of other clever things including easy panorama shots. I do bring a second camera body, but I also now do this because I have my walk around lens on the primary camera and a ultra wide angle lens on the other. I found that if I couldn't get the shot I wanted with my 18-135mm lens {27-207mm 35mm equivalent}, it was usually because I needed wider. When going with a tour group, one just doesn't have time to keep switching lenses.]
In my next post, I'll add some additional points of my own.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Touring Israel in Google Street View


As reported in the Google Earth Blog,
Google has rolled out a rather substantial Street View update this morning, covering hundreds of towns in Israel and updating various other cities across the world. Some of the highlights include the Sea of Galilee, the Western Wall and the Bet She'an National Park
In the graphic at the top, all the blue lines show where Google Street View is available. (The blue dots are links to photographs.) Lots of touring in Jerusalem and along the western part of the country, but do note that you can take a nice trip down along the Dead Sea and catch glimpses of Qumran and Masada as you go. They even drove into Ein Gedi. If you click on the Bet She'an link in their blurb, you'll see that they walked around the site and looks like this:
They also went up to the top of the Arbel and walked around there as well. (click on the link to see for yourself)

You can get a view of the archaeological work at Magdala.

They didn't go along the north or eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, so no view of Capernaum (except for a little detour into the resort next to the Greek Orthodox holdings in Capernaum).

They did take a complete and thorough tour of Chorazin, however. Check out the synagogue there. There is also a very nice tour of ancient Tell Dan, including the Israelite gate complex,the middle Bronze arched gate, and the sacred high place. There is also a complete tour of Tell Hazor. Be sure to visit the palace. And the Herodian amphitheater at Caesarea. The well at the gate of Tel Ber Sheva. The lovely bell caves at Beit Guvrin / Maresha.

Okay, you get the idea. This really is spectacular. If you find some other favorite Google Street View archaeological sites, please add them in the comments.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Free eBook: Cyber-Archaeology in the Holy Land - The Future of the Past


Bible History Daily, a publication of the Biblical Archaeological Society, announced today a free eBook available for download entitled, "Cyber-Archaeology in the Holy Land - The Future of the Past." You will need to sign up for a free account--it's BAS's way of promotion--but the 29-page eBook is indeed free and downloadable as a PDF.
In this free eBook, pioneering researchers at the University of California, San Diego’s Calit2 laboratory showcase cutting-edge archaeological methods that are helping create a new and objective future of the past.

By Thomas E. Levy, Neil G. Smith, Mohammad Najjar, Thomas A. DeFanti, Albert Yu-Min Lin and Falko Kuester

It's pretty amazing the technology that is available today for archaeological research, from LiDAR to octocopters, HD and 3D, OpenDig metadata databases and crowd-sourcing. (Click on the graphic above to be able to read the Table of Contents more easily.)

Friday, January 4, 2013

Biblical Studies and Technological Tools - Review of 2012 and looking ahead to 2013

I had been neglecting this blog a bit in 2011 and the start of 2012, but I had some time to revive it this fall. As a result, traffic to the site did increase by 18% in 2012 as compared to 2011. All told, in 2012 there were 38,459 unique visitors to the site and 74,0171 pageviews. As you would expect, the majority of visitors are from English speaking countries: USA, UK, Canada, Australia. After that, about 1% of the total visitors come from each of the following countries: Philippines, Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, Italy, Israel.
  • By far the most read post in 2012 (9373 pageviews) was actually one I posted in 2011: Evaluation of Android Bible Apps. Other than the home page, the second and third most visited pages were also from 2011: Bible Software for Android (3750 pageviews) and MySword Bible App for Android. Clearly there is a strong interest in Android Bible apps. I will have to update my reviews. I did post in 2012 about the Relative Speed of Android Bible Apps and the Versions Available in Android Bible Apps. I'm still standing by the observations I made in those posts. I'm using MySword most often because it is the fastest one to come up on my aging Droid X, it has the Greek versions I usually want to read, and it allows for the display of multiple versions. If I want to see a bunch of English versions, I use YouVersion. If I need to do more in-depth work, I will go to Olive Tree or Logos or use a web browser and go to Biblia.com (Logos) or the online NET Bible.
  • The most read post from 2012 was the Logos 5 Review - Part 1 with 1827 hits. (Part 2 and Part 3 of my review only received about 800 hits each even though that third part has my concluding observations.) The release of Logos 5 was one of the bigger items of interest in 2012.
  • The second most read post was Bible Software Decisions: Accordance, BibleWorks, Logos, et al. There certainly is competition between the Bible software offerings, and when it becomes an investment of many hundreds of dollars, people do want to know what they are getting for their money.
Some news of note in 2012 in this little niche of interest in Bible and technology:
Looking ahead to 2013...
  • I am very interested to see what becomes of Windows8. I posted some of my first impressions of using it, and they are definitely mixed impressions. On my home desktop machine, I have the option of upgrading from Win7 to Win8, but I have decided not to do so for the time being. Win8 really is designed as a touch-screen system. To maintain usability with desktop users, Microsoft made some concessions for a classic desktop interface. To me, then, Win8 feels like neither fish nor fowl. I do like the idea of having a similar interface for all my devices, but I'm not sure how that will work out.
  • In a related matter, I'm also wondering how Android will proceed. It's not without faults, but I have had great functionality on my Droid X phone which has basically become my do-everything device: phone, contacts, email, web, GPS, photo, Bible software, games... The question for me still is what I will do when my Droid X phone will need to be replaced, probably later this year. Do I go with Android or Win8? I'm not sure.
  • It seems clear to me that the market is breaking into Win8, Android, and the Mac OSes. (I tried to keep abreast of developments in all three, but it is too much. I hope to do what I can with Windows and Android.) The question really becomes, what is the future of the desktop and notebook? My daughter wants a tablet, and it appears to me that manufacturers are trying to address this desire. I like the idea of, say, a 10" tablet that I can take everywhere and is able to run all the programs/apps I want. For me, this is probably going to take the form of a Win8 tablet. BUT, I really like lots of viewable screen. (I'm working with two 21" widescreen monitors right now.) Does this mean a tablet with a desktop docking station? Will the tablets really have enough power to run everything, including the photo editing I do? How about an ultrabook and a docking station with multiple monitors? I suspect that I am now old-fashioned for still liking a desktop.
  • I will be watching for developments in the online social aspects of doing Bible study. Logos has been promoting Faithlife which has interesting potential. In addition to the online component, it also has ways of hooking in to the Logos software on your computer for sharing notes, searches, etc. YouVersion has a similar kind of integration for their online Bible reading as well as their mobile apps. BibleX is their latest approach to communal Bible reading. There are also a number of ways to read the Bible together on Facebook. I'd love to see this kind of approach become a truly global community of readers, and it could be both groups of Christians as well as interfaith groups.