This travel photographer explains how two innocuous settings on your camera can define the success of your next shoot.

Words and Photography Lisa Michele Burns | OM SYSTEM Global Ambassador



snow white winter slopes and the sea of blue hues visible underwater all have one thing in common: the colours we see within those landscapes, and in fact every shade and shape visible around us, is determined by light.

Just as our eyes see a myriad of colours, our cameras capture them by recording rays of light as they bounce through the lens.

The direction of light, quality of light and its intensity, all come together to impact your scene or subject when photographing. From dappled to diffused, hard to soft and backlit to reflective, light has so many properties and possibilities that can be used to our advantage as we capture travel images.

Finding light sources within a scene can be a great first step when you’re assessing how to compose and capture an image. More often than not, the sun will play a role as the major light source so it’s important to look for how the light is falling across a landscape, how subjects within the scene are being impacted and what conditions are creating the colours before you.

Once you get comfortable working with light, learning how to embrace it and harness the creative potential can help enhance your travel photographs and produce images with true to life colours.


When photographing any scene on the road, you’ll be presented with a colour temperature dependent on the light conditions. This temperature determines how white tones are balanced within your image. To measure the colour temperature of light we can use the Kelvin scale in photography, which essentially associates a number with the warm to cool temperature created by available light sources. For example, a candlelit scene is 2000 K, daylight is 5500 K and a cloudy or shaded scene typically sits at around 7500 K.

Candlelit Scene



If you were to set your white balance for a cloudy scene, when in fact you’re photographing a brightly lit scene with strong sunshine, the white tones within your image will then appear warmer.

Your camera will perform the white balance adjustments for you when operating on auto white balance. While this makes the process easier, understanding how different light sources within a scene interact to form the balance of white tones, will help when determining whether your colours are looking true to life or need a little adjusting in Lightroom later.


Working with natural light is a given when photographing in outdoor environments, the intensity of light will determine which camera settings to use, and the time of day will help to set the scene before you.

The golden hours of sunrise and sunset, pastel beauty of dusk, and shimmer of blue hour are all times when you’ll find photographers out and about making the most of these truly special conditions. As the sun sits close to the horizon, low light ensures a setting fit for long exposures, softer colour palettes and shadow play. It’s at this time of day you’ll be treated to rapidly changing colours across the sky and your subject.

Look to incorporate the ways light is highlighting various features within the scene and adapt your composition and camera settings to suit. You can get creative with reflections, using puddles, still lakes or shiny surfaces to produce a unique image, or try something fun like Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) photography. This technique is similar to long exposure photography, and blends the movement, texture and colours of a landscape into an artistic interpretation of the scene, easily achieved by using the Live ND filter feature available on a recent OM SYSTEM/Olympus camera.

When photographing wildlife (particularly important on Safari in Africa - take a look at these shots) you typically want the animals’ individual characteristics and colours to be highlighted alongside their natural surroundings.

For example, if you’re photographing on safari, most guides will venture out on morning or afternoon game drives, offering the perfect opportunity to photograph in ideal light conditions, when the animals are most active. A golden afternoon glow can create visible shadows or silhouettes of your subject, allowing you to showcase their shape and capture an image that portrays their natural behaviour.

As wildlife won’t be sitting still and waiting for you to take the perfect photo, once you’ve selected camera settings to suit the light and scene, features like Pro Capture mode found within the OM SYSTEM/Olympus cameras like the OM-D E-M5 MKIII, will be the assistant you never knew you needed. When using Pro Capture, the camera will start recording a sequence of images from the moment you half press the shutter, continuing to take up to 60fps (Frames Per Second) after you’ve pressed it completely.

This means no more missed shots and you can photograph things like birds taking flight.


Using light to draw attention to facial features and form within portraits is such a striking way to make your travel images stand out.

Shadows and direction of sunlight can play a big part in ensuring the way you use light is both effective and flattering for your subject. If photographing portraits in a larger outdoor scene, you can play with shadows and the position of your subject to make the most of the available light.

Harsh lighting can result in over exposed features, and it can also be uncomfortable for your subject to appear natural if the glare in their eyes is too strong. Instead, capturing portraits in the shade, low light or by using soft light through a window, can be a beautiful way to diffuse incoming hard light and let it fall gently over your subject’s face.

Patterned light is also another creative way to incorporate various shapes and shadows into an image. Try using a material or walls with lots of holes and features like lace or a branch with lots of little leaves for the light to shine through.


Photographing city streets and bustling scenes can bring about many creative opportunities with light and movement. Throughout the day, shadows will pour and shift through inner city streets as light moves from east to west.

Low light conditions, sparkling city lights and moving traffic is a wonderful combination for long exposure photography. Since you’ll be working with a dimly lit environment, it’s important to expose your shots correctly and consider the available light sources, the speed at which subjects are moving and how much movement you wish to capture.

Play with movement by taking advantage of new tools like the Live ND filter found in the OM SYSTEM OM-1 and the Olympus OM-D E-M1 MKIII and E-M1X cameras. This nifty tool allows you to watch live as light passes through the scene while capturing an image.

It can be used for long exposure photography in all types of settings from beach scenes and breaking waves to waterfalls, highways and harbours.

It's not everyday that photos like this cross the editorial desk at get lost. Let alone in a destination we just love! We think this image is perfectly framed, timed and captured with exquisite use of both light and colour (which conveniently happens to be the topic of our new and improved Exposure Section above). When photographer and tour guide Callie Chee spotted this woman kneeling inside the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan, Iran she told us she was halfway up the building in a different section when out of the corner of her eye she noticed the light changing. She ran, half-stumbled and crouched down breathless to seize the opportunity. They don’t make places of worship quite like this anymore. Built in 1617, it is located at the centre of the eastern side of Isfahan’s maydan (open city square). The mosque was a centrepiece of the new Safavid dynasty which ruled the region from 1501 to 1736.

15mm ISO 100, f/7.1, 0.6sec

Congratulations to Callie Chee for winning our Frame Your View competition. Callie has scored an Olympus camera for entering this incredible shot.


Send us your best travel photos for a chance to win an E-M5 Mark III + 14-150mm Kit, valued at AU$2,049, plus have your image featured in the magazine! This stylish, compact, interchangeable-lens camera is perfect for travel. shop.olympus.com.au


Get subscribed and get inspired. For FREE!