The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Charleston With Travel Photography Tips


Writing about camera gear or providing technical how-to tips is easy. But now I’m going to have a go at something much harder: tips on what to photograph and how to compose the shot.

It’s a Matter of Personal Style

Before we get into the specifics, please understand that I’m not suggesting that you slavishly try to copy what I do. Heck, you might not even like what I do—i.e. my style. Even if that is so, I hope this post will still inspire you in your search for your own photographic voice.

Talking of personal style, to my own eye at least, my photography has advanced most since I stopped shooting for the sailing magazines and stopped thinking about what they would like and buy—a very narrow and, to my mind, boring style—and started shooting purely to please myself. After all, how many more over-saturated sunset shots does this world need?

Photography as Part of Daily Life

Another important step in my journey as a photographer has been that I have now integrated my craft into our daily voyaging life. For me, this has proved to be much more realistic and enjoyable than trying to fit photography-only time to what is already a very full life. Sure, I still occasionally go out by myself with a tripod to try and make a killer landscape shot, but increasingly it’s the shots that capture the daily life or details of a place while out walking with Phyllis, or even running errands, that mean the most to me.

Share With Your Partner

The additional advantage of my developing style is that now my craft is a shared one. Although Phyllis has no interest in making photographs herself, because my photography is almost always part of our time out together, she has become part of the process: anticipating what I will shoot and discussing the composition afterward. In fact some of my favourite shots of the last couple of years are ones that Phyllis saw developing before I did—she pointed, I shot.

Not Snapshots, Made Photographs

Having said all that, I don’t want to leave you thinking that I now take snapshots. Far from it. Every photograph I make has been thought about and composed, even in a street shooting situation where the time from idea to shutter trip is just seconds. And that leads me to my single most important tip: think about what you want every photograph to say and the larger story they are part of. Make your photographs, don’t take them. For example, in the shot above I consciously decided to throw the foreground out of focus as well as include the grave stone.

"Morgan's Cloud" lies at anchor in the glow of the setting sun and the rising moon at Maidens Arm, a very sheltered and uninhabited anchorage on the Great Northern Peninsula. Though uninhabited by people, we had lots of company from otters, moose and birds.

Let’s Make This Hard

An anchored yacht lit by lovely long warm light, a scene that it is easy to make a pretty photograph from, like the one above. But I’m going to try something harder: I made the photos below around Charleston last winter as part of our daily life. Yes, it’s a picturesque city, but even so it’s all too easy to come away from any place with cluttered uninteresting photographs that fail to tell the story of the place and our time there. If you can make strong interesting photographs in a town, you can do it anywhere.

I hope the tips in the captions of the photos at the end of the post will inspire and help you to make photographs that please you and tell your story, wherever you happen to be. To really see the shots, click on the photos to enlarge them.

A Word About Gear

Many of the images below could have been made with a reasonably good point and shoot and all are within the capabilities of just about any mirrorless camera with the right lenses. In fact, the advent of the new small easy to carry mirrorless cameras has contributed hugely to my evolving and improving style. Good photography is not about big expensive gear.


I have tried to keep the captions as jargon free as possible. But explaining every photo term would make them overly long, so if you have any questions, please leave a comment below the photos. Likewise, if you have any photography tips that will help others.

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richard s.

another among many excellent posts john…first of all i had to chuckle to myself that here is this wiley, salt-caked and dedicated voyager who has faced innumerable situations at sea that would have most of us wimpering and immobilized on the cabin sole who is pontificating about artistry with as delicate an instrument as a digital slr camera as if he knew nothing about the realities of open-ocean passaging including that even with the full complement of electronics if you are exhausted from dealing with the elements you will still find yourself disoriented and unsure of where you are, which way to head, and feel the panic of these uncertainties amplified by knowing you are for real in the middle of nowhere with many more hours of the same still ahead of you even if you can sort out your position and attend to the basics such as keeping the mast up, the water out and the crew plus yourself on board…well, i think i have made my point about the irony i found with this post

secondly, can we sum up your view of photography by saying that there is the difference between night and day between snapping off a photo for the sake of snapping for an image vs the capability of becoming an artist with that camera even if is only a point-and-shoot and how gratifying is that discovery even to the point-and-shooter ?

lastly for now let’s not overlook the qualities of black and white photography…color is so ubiquitous we tend to forget about black and white, but it can easily rival color for effect and artistry…so if you do both then the end product suddenly at least doubles in scope

richard in tampa bay (m/v cavu’s skipper, formerly s/v sidra’s skipper)



Viv and Mireille

John: Great tips and great photography!

In my case your blog came just in time. I had taken a break from my amateur photography for a year, (mainly due to having a camera stolen). But recently I spent a long time looking at point ‘n shoots and range finders, something relatively small and fixed lens that I could take on the motorcycle easily.

What I found were hundreds of cameras that could fit the bill, very confusing. But one element came to light and that was the question of a ‘view finder’.

I cannot seem to live without a viewfinder, ergonomically I find it easier to frame a picture with the camera resting on my face! rather than arms length using a screen. Having figured that out, it narrowed the field considerably.

Not being in the position to buy a Leica M series, I stumbled upon a Leica Digilux II 5mp and its identical twin the Panasonic DMC-LC1. I settled on a used LC1 because anything with the “Red Dot” has a silly price attached. But both have the Leica F2.0 – 2.4 Leica DC VARIO-SUMMICRON lens with 3.2x zoom capability (equivalent to 28 – 90mm on a 35mm camera). The lens makes the camera in my opinion, yes restricted in its limited zoom capability but beautiful results all the same.
It is a camera that brings back manual f stop settings on the lens, shutter speed on a dial and of course all the tech found on the average point ‘n shoot. It shoots RAW so good to be able to jiggle the shots post-edit.

I digress, now I have the camera I feel very comfortable with, I can now explore the Scottish countryside armed with your excellent shooting tips and get back to an enjoyable hobby. Thanks!


Hi John

A well-heeled friend once took a photography class at a local college, and turned up on the first day with his usual assortment of high end kit, only to have the instructor take away all but the basic body and prime 50mm lens from his extensive repertoire of lenses.

And for the next few months that was all he was allowed to use. The message? Move your feet and find the image, frame it and work the light. At the end of it he was a different photographer, and thrilled with the results.

Which is, to me at least, much of what you are imparting here. Great stuff, and highly inspirational – looking forward to part II>

Best wishes


Scott Kuhner

I have seen too many slide shows of world cruises that mostly contain pictures of beautiful landscapes and/or sunsets and anchorages with the boat in the background. The real story is when you have slides of everyday life on board and of interacting with the locals. In fact the whole reason Kitty and I have made two circumnavigations was to meet the local people and to experience their cultures. A beautiful picture of local flowers is one thing; but, the real story is being part of a Kava ceremony with the local men and their chief in a remote village somewhere in Fiji, or our kids having dugout canoe races with the local children of Marovo Lagoon in the Salomon Islands, catching a fish at sea, kitty cutting my hair while at sea, trying to reduce sail in a storm. Those pictures can’t be set up and it is those pictures that tell the real story of your sailing adventures.

To see what I am talking about you can view our slideshows of our two circumnavigations by going to: 1st circumnavigation 1971-1974 2nd 1987-1991
when you get there, click on the first thiumbnail and then scroll down to read the text. Then click next at the bottom of the page ..and so on.