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WANT PERFECT VACATION PHOTOS? PRACTICE

I'm a firm believer in the phrase "practice makes perfect" - especially when it comes to outdoor photography. By experimenting with f-stops, shutter speeds, different films, creative filters and accessory lenses, and by photographing different subjects in a variety of lighting conditions, photographers learn - most often the hard way - what works and what doesn't.

This learning process can be put another way: photographers (and all people for that matter) who don't make mistakes don't learn anything.So, practicing and experimenting is good advice if you want to take great travel pictures. You should do it. However, the time not to practice and experiment is when you are after some important and memorable pictures, most notably when you are on vacation. Therefore pre-vacation practice sessions are recommended. How can you prac-tice and be prepared for photo ops in your far-off vacation destination? Here are some tips that may help.

- Big cities. If you plan to travel to a big city like New York, Rome, London, etc., spend some time at a nearby city taking pictures at different times of the day. Experiment with ISO 100 and 200 film during the day to see how you can capture fast-paced city life, and citiscapes. After the sun sets, use ISO 400 or 1000 film to capture city lights. By using different films at different times of the day, you'll get a feel for which speed is best suited for a particular situation.

Try wide-angle lenses for photographs of buildings, and see how telephoto lenses can be used for people pictures. If your telephoto lens doesn't get you "close" enough to your subject, and if your wide-angle lens can't capture skyscrapers, you may want to purchase a new lens before you leave home.

- Seaports. Seaports provide fabulous picture-taking opportunities. In Hong Kong, for example, there are several brightly lighted and beautifully decorated floating restaurants, hundreds of Chinese junks and sampans, and, of course, great faces to photograph. Here in the states, there are dozens of famous seaports, including the South Street Seaport in New York City and Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.

Because ships and boats are usually backlighted by a bright sky, it's a good idea to experiment with exposures at closer-to-home sites, like a riverfront or lakefront dock. Your photographs at these latter sites may not be as exotic or colorful as those taken at a far-off seaport, but they will illustrate how just a little variation in exposure can make the difference between a great shot and a snapshot.

- National parks. Our national parks offer many breathtaking scenes that make for picture-perfect postcard images. To learn how you can create these kinds of images, do some testing at a nearby park or preserve. As with big city photography, shoot from dawn to dusk, notice how the colors are "warmer" in the early morning and late afternoon hours, and how the shadows during these times add depth to your images. Also, experiment with a polarizing filter to see how it can darken a blue sky and whiten white clouds; and how it can reduce reflection on lakes, ponds and streams.

- Safaris. African safaris offer thrilling opportunities to capture, on film, wild animals in their nature settings. But before you go, spend some time at a local zoo or wildlife park. Your practice session will give you an idea of how telephoto lenses can bring your subject "closer." It will also illustrate how you must be prepared, at all times to capture just the right moment in time - a pose, an "expression" or action. Because in wildlife photography, the moment is often gone in an instant.