How to photograph like a professional while traveling (Jargon buster)


  • Ask first, if you can
  • If you have a camera with a zoom or a changeable lens, be careful about the 'focal length' (amount of zoom) you choose.

Focal length

Jargon buster

Lenses are measured by their 'focal length'. Focal length is measured in millimetres (mm). On a 35mm Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera (the sort generally used by outdoor professional photographers) a lens with a focal length of 50mm is standard and gives roughly the same magnification as a human eye. Any lens with a focal length less than 50mm is called a 'wide-angle' lens and will fit more in the picture than you could normally see at once without moving your eyes. Anything over 50mm is 'telephoto' and will have the effect of magnifying the image or bringing it closer to you. A 100mm lens would give you 2 times magnification, so the subject would look twice as big or half as far away. A 300mm lens is 6 times the standard lens (50x6=300) so it would be like taking a photo through binoculars with 6 times magnification.

If you get too close and use a wide-angle lens (a lower focal length than standard - say 28mm) the face will appear as if it is reflected in the fatty mirror. The features will be exaggerated, the nose will look too long and so on. If you use a wide-angle lens from further away the effect will not be as bad but the subject will only take up a small part of the total picture.

At the other extreme, a telephoto lens (a focal length of more than 50mm) flattens features and shortens the nose. Professional portrait photographers usually use a lens with a focal length between 80 and 135mm. With this kind of lens, you can get the flattering effects of a telephoto lens without having to move too far back from the subject.

Of course, we are not looking to take cover-page photos, so let's not be too fussy, but the moral is that if you want the child on the west bank to look in your photo the way they looked when they tried to sell you a carving, don't get too close and if you have a zoom, leave the setting just above the standard.


Luxor is a very busy place. There are photogenic buildings, but in many cases, you can't get far enough away from them to take a picture of the whole building with a standard lens. Luxor temple is a case in point. Taking parts of it are not difficult from various parts of the Corniche, but taking a picture of the whole of it is only possible from somewhere in the middle of the Nile or from the opposite bank. To take a picture of a substantial part of the temple frontage from the East Bank will need a wide-angle lens or a compact camera that zooms to a lower focal length than the standard.

From a cruise boat

Most of the pictures will be of one or the other of the banks of the Nile. Even when the ship is close to a bank, it is still far enough away for any subject the size of a person to appear very small in the picture if you use a standard lens.

By and large, a telephoto lens, or a camera with a built-in zoom, will be needed if you want pictures of people doing their laundry or washing their cooking pots in the Nile. Pictures of buildings along the Nile will also fill more of the frame if you use a telephoto lens. A zoom lens with magnification from around 1.5 up to 6 (such as a 75mm - 300mm on an SLR camera) will be fine for most situations, but even then the people in the pictures will not fill the frame.

When to take the photos

The normal advice when taking photos of people is to have the sun behind the photographer. This shines a light on the face of the subject so you get more detail and colour in the picture. However, in Luxor, the sun is very bright almost all the time, so it is difficult for the subject to stand in the sunlight without squinting.

An alternative is to move away from direct sunlight and to use a 'fill-in flash'. This avoids the squinting problem and lightens the shadows that you would otherwise get, especially in the eye sockets and other areas where there would otherwise be shadows.

Fill-in flash

Jargon buster

Fill-in flash provides a measured amount of light - less than a normal full camera flash. The amount of flash will match the amount of surrounding light. It is not as harsh as a full flash. Most cameras, including compacts and digital cameras, have a fill-in flash feature.

Buildings don't squint, but they still suffer from harsh shadows. It is usually best to avoid the middle of the day when the sun is high and the shadows are very strong.

In the early morning and later in the afternoon, the colour of the light is usually more flattering to the building and there will be more natural rather than shadow detail.

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