Taking better Pictures

Hot tips and professional advice for capturing your cruise memories on film.

Dear Pamda: I am always disappointed by my cruise photos, especially those I take in port. Do I need a new camera? Clicker

Dear Clicker, Professional photographers will tell you that the reason many amateurs don't get the same photo they see through the viewfinder is because they only look and only click once. Professional photographers snap several pictures of the same scene at various angles with different lenses and exposure settings. Amateurs tend to be victims of sticker shock when they think about the price of taking photos, particularly the price of developing.

The more frames you shoot, the better your chances of getting a great photo. If it's a once-in-a-lifetime port visit, click away. And in case your results are not picture-perfect, buy a few postcards.

Dear Pamda: We are going on an extended cruise and I want to take a lot of film. I'm worried about the X-ray machines at the airports and other security stations because some of the film may go through so often. Fretting

Dear Fret, According to Jim Blamphin of Kodak, any film up to and including ASA 600 is perfectly safe in the X-ray devices. If you are carrying ASA 800 or 1000 he recommends carrying it in an ordinary kitchen zip-top bag and asking to have it hand-inspected. Your local camera store or on on-line source will gladly sell you lead-lined bags or boxes as additional security.

Dear Pamda: If I follow your advice and take lots and lots of pictures then run out of film, is film readily available in port cities? Portly Person

Dear Portly, Film is ALWAYS available, at a premium price, in all touristy ports, though in some more exotic locations you may have to range around a bit. But buying film in exotic ports is not recommended. In extremely hot, humid or distant locations the film may have been shipped or stored in less-than-favorable conditions which means less-than favorable results. Worst case, it is "gray market" film that looks like the real thing, but isn't. There is an easy answer. Buy your film from the photo shop folks on board. Their supply is always fresh. Just don't count on extremely high-speed film being available.

Dear Pamda: I'm getting tired of toting my 35mm SLR around in port. The camera bag is heavy and I never have the right lens on the body. I don't want to give up the quality of the photos and the ability to manage my own camera. Lens Crafter

Lens Crafter, There's a good solution, but like most, it requires a bit of a compromise. In consultation with camera gurus when faced with a similar problem, they came up with a 28 - 200mm zoom. The photos are uniformly excellent, but you have to sacrifice some F-stops and could encounter problems in low-light situations.

Dear Pamda: My wife refuses to learn how to use "the big camera", but she gets testy when I take all the pictures because she wants photos of things I'm not interested in. Any thoughts on getting good photos that will make both of us happy and avoiding marital disharmony? Harried Husband

Dear Harry, I'm sure there must be a birthday, anniversary or another gift-giving event on your home horizon. Give her a small, good quality 35mm point-and-shoot (zoom lens highly recommended) and tell her to shoot what she wants - but only with that camera. A nice companion gift would be several rolls of film to encourage her to practice before your next cruise.

Point out to her that what she sees through the viewfinder is NOT always what the lens sees (it's not a single-lens-reflex) and she might take a few pictures of her fingers before she gets it right. (This from personal experience when breaking in a "little camera" as an easy-to-tote backup.)

You may be surprised. Sometimes the wee camera will return a better print than the big guy.

Dear Pamda: I love being able to put my pix up on the CruiseMates Photo Gallery, but I don't like waiting to get them back from the developer then scanning them in. Is it time for a digital camera? TechnoGeek

Your Geekness, Digital camera technology is rapidly improving and prices are coming down. Remember, digital cameras are pixel-based, just like your computer screen. The higher the resolution, the larger the file size of each picture and the more the camera costs. On the other hand, the web has its own limitations on recommended file-sizes (resolution) so if all you want to do is upload photos to a website an inexpensive digital will do the job as well as the more expensive cameras. Don't spend the big bucks unless you want really high quality pictures for printing or to view only on your home computer.

Dear Pamda: I took six rolls of precious vacation photos to a department store for developing. They lost them, along with other people's film. What can I do? Granny

Dear Granny, First you cry. The store's liability, if any, is usually limited to the cost of the film. Work on your memories, then work on a plan for next time. You can also hope to connect with someone who took similar pictures and will have duplicates made for you.

Department stores, drug stores, and photo kiosks do not have on-site developing and, as happened to you, the film may get lost in transit, though it's rare. The ubiquitous one-hour photo labs (which always take more than an hour) are only as good as the maintenance of their machines. There are two good bets. One is to have your photos developed while still aboard. The film isn't going anywhere and the price is competitive with land-based labs. The other is to form a relationship with a good shoreside camera store that does its own in-house developing. Remember that "glarnge", little icky things that may show up on your prints, or bad contrast are the result of the printing process. "Play it again, Sam," is not an unreasonable request if you are a good customer.

Dear Pamda: I have heard that there are great bargains on cameras in places like St. Thomas. True or not? Bargain Seeker

Dear Seeker: Sort of true, sort of not. As always with offshore purchases, know what you are buying and what it costs at home to assure you are making a valid price comparison. Do a little shopping before your cruise and know exactly what you want, right down to the model number and then cruise the ´┐ŻNet to find the discount prices for your chosen camera. Many reputable stateside camera stores will meet Internet prices.

Sometimes the cameras available in the islands and in the Orient (also famous for great prices) are discontinued models. If you do purchase an offshore camera or lenses, make sure they are in the original packaging and include all appropriate manufacturer's warranty information. It gets expensive to go back to the store. Watch out for this common ploy, the "bait and switch." The shop claims to be sold out of the model you want just when you are ready to make the purchase. At that point they recommend another model at the same price, but it is usually inferior to the model you really want. Better to buy your new camera at home.

Dear Pamda: I'm OK with cameras and know how to use them fairly well, but I have another question. We are planning an Alaska cruise next year and I want to give my husband absolutely the best possible set of binoculars before we go. Optical Illusion

Dear Illusion, When we took our first trip to Alaska, I wondered if the binocs we used for birding and boating were the proper power to look for bears, spot seals and observe eagles. I called the legendary Cabela's Outdoor Adventures outfitters to true outdoor aficionados, and received the ultimate answer: 7x50 power, Nikon. We also took along a pair of "spotting glasses" which were fabulous for looking at lazy seals lounging on ice floes. We could see every whisker.

Dear Pamda: We don't take a lot of pictures when we are at home, we just want to take photos on cruises. Do I really need to spend a lot of money on a camera? Cheapskate

Dear Skate: One word: no. If you're just looking for memories, the one-use cameras that are readily available at your local drugstore or discount department store are just fine. You can also purchase them aboard ship for a slightly higher price.

Even serious amateur photographers use "disposable" cameras. The panoramic models are essential for Alaska and similar grand vista destinations unless you have a gazillion dollars to spend on lenses.

There are plastic housings to use underwater for big-deal cameras; they are best left to the professionals. "Underwater" disposable cameras are great for snorkeling, SCUBA, climbing Dunn's River Falls in Ocho Rios, swimming with the dolphins almost anywhere, a long tender trip or boating outings such as Stingray City where spray (salt water) might damage your lenses and dropping your camera would be disaster.

Dear Pamda: What about theft or attracting thieves with expensive cameras? Yankee Tourist

Dear Yank: Ostentatious displays are an invitation to disaster in some destinations. With "little cameras" loop the lanyard around a belt loop and stick it in your pocket. In a restaurant or other public place, if you don't want the big camera around your neck or the bag digging into your back, put in on the floor under the table and make sure your chair leg is holding the strap in place.

Link to the Member Photo Galleries.

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