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Joe Noonan
It's All About The Ride was founded by Britta and Joseph Noonan. Britta and Joe are a happily married couple who share a love for travel, exploring and experiencing all that life has to offer. Currently on a work assignment away from their home in beautiful Coeur d' Alene, ID, they are presently living full-time in a fifth wheel near the Superstition Mountains in Arizona. Both Britta and Joe are adventure seekers with experiences and insights into all aspects of exploring and visiting unique locations. From camping off the back of a motorcycle to living out of an RV and exploring off the beaten path, their product and trip reviews come from first-hand knowledge and a love of seeing and experiencing all that life has to offer.

Getting The Shot: Simple Photography Techniques That Anyone Can Use

When we plan a vacation, the first thing we all do is study the brochures and websites and fantasize that we are in those gorgeous locations. We will research reviews, then visit travel forums and ask questions about the locals, gather info on good hotels and find out about all the great restaurants etc. After we get feedback and are satisfied, we then decide where to spend our hard earned money on the perfect spot to visit. Time spent deciding is a substantial investment. We do not want to go on vacation and have a terrible time.
A beach on Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands, WA. in January. The light was right at the end of the golden hour illuminating the white caps. I placed the land in the top 1/3 horizontal to draw the audiences eye into the center.
Winter's Beachcombing available for sale at Joseph Noonan Photography

Moreover, we do not want bad photographs from a vacation either. A huge part of any vacation is taking photos which oftentimes are from the same spot that you saw in the brochure. I do not know anyone that does not take pictures of their vacation! It is that important, and these are your trip memories. Quick snapshots are great for showing your friends and family when you get home from your trip. But, more often than not when you are reviewing them later, you find that you are just not satisfied with what you captured. It just does not bring home the "wow" factor of the landscape or location as you remember it. It is just a bad picture that is the result from unrealistic expectations and/or a few bad habits. I believe it is simply the idea that photographs should be just quick wham-bam point and shoot and go. That is the problem. That is why 80% of your photos are never looked at again.
When Britta and I got to the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, the entire day was planned so I could just be there and photograph. No rushing around or settling for a shot. I took the entire day to soak it in. We walked the entire cliffs up and down. This is one of my best shots I have ever taken. The colors and lighting are perfect for the drama in the scene. This is a great example of what slowing down can do for you.
Cliffs of Moher available for sale at Joseph Noonan Photography

Taking a picture in today's digital world is as easy as pulling out your phone or a compact point and shoot from your pocket and shooting away. Unfortunately the age of digital photography has also made us lazy. Most of you will never know the expense of dropping 30 rolls of film off after a vacation to be developed. Big bucks!

The following are some tips and techniques that I used or practiced and they will help you take better photographs. They can be applied to an iPhone, a point and shoot or a DSLR. If you do not have a camera yet of are looking to upgrade. Don't get caught up in Nikon or Canon or Olympus or Sony etc. Read reviews look at sample pictures and buy smart.

Slow Down

The biggest issue I see anywhere when watching people on vacation taking pictures is they take the shot like it is an afterthought. Oh yeah, let me get this shot real quick. Understandably, they are excited but as a result rushed to take it all in. The photo, however, is the only evidence that you were there. Treat taking your pictures as importantly as the fact that you ARE there. That means slow down. Walk the area and scout the best view and location to shoot from. Be in your location, feel it, absorb it and then shoot. Relax your breath and gently press the trigger. Not only does slowing down reduce camera shake but also you will be surprised by doing it just how much better your shots are.
One of our favorite vacation spots is the San Juan Islands, WA. This image is an example of what slowing down and experiencing the area before shooting can do for your images. The clouds blocked the light most of the morning then a brief sun break came out and lit up the grass and foreground in front of me. I was initially focusing in on the fence when this women walked into my shot. It painted a wonderful reflective mood as she just stared out over the water.
 Longing is available for sale at Joseph Noonan Photography

Zoom into or walk in on your subject

Sometimes your pictures aren’t capturing the scene like you see it. They are missing “something”- try taking a shot closer to your subject. Fill-up the frame with the focus of your photo and see how much better your photo looks. Stop trying to put too much background in your shot. The closer you are to the subject, if it is a person, you will start capturing their expressions better as well.

At a Japanese garden I was trying to capture the beautiful Koi in the pond. I could not get that one shot I wanted. I was trying to capture the fish AND the pond. It wasn't working. I decided to just zoom in on one and this picture was the result. This is straight out of my Canon 7D. No effects added. The reflection, the color, the sense of movement are conveying so much more than if I had included the background.

Read your camera’s manual

The best way to know what to do with your camera is to actually read the manual. What? Really? No way! So many people don't do this and I don’t get it. I think it goes back to the caviler attitude about taking pictures. Everyone will put their point and shoot on Auto and fire away. Photography is so much more than that. The capture and manipulation of light can be exploited with a skilled photographer. Learn your camera inside and out. To understand something is the first step to mastering it. Read your manual and keep it with you for reference. Changing settings on the fly and understanding why you are changing them is the hallmark of every good photographer I know.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

The only way to get good at anything is to practice. If you only pick up your camera for vacations and then expect your images to be on par with the cover of Condé Nest Traveler Magazine, it’s just not realistic. Pick up your camera on your off time and play with it. Really, play with every button. Learn what they do. You will soon get proficient in the field and start taking much better shots. A side result of all this practice is you will also start to develop an eye. Your own style will come out over time. Britta always says she can immediately tell if I took the shot or she did.
A few years ago I visited an old childhood haunt. This trail was a huge part of my childhood. The day I visited the spring marigolds were blooming. I tried a normal shot and it did not capture their beauty the way I wanted. I switched to selective color on my Canon Powershot, which highlighted the marigolds beautifully. The black and white for the path and the trees really shows off the effect I was looking for.
The Yellow Marsh Marigolds of Spring is available for sale at Joseph Noonan Photography

Learn the light

Photography is the capture and recording of light, period. You need to have an understanding of the different types like natural sunlight or artificial light and how to utilize them before you raise your camera. Try to study where the light is coming from and then use it to improve your image. Look at how the light is interacting on the landscape or subject. Ever have a dark silhouette of a person because they were in front of a sun lit window? That is a shot almost impossible to balance unless you use inside flash as well. Shoot with the sun at your back. Observe how it looks on your hand. Raise it up and look, really look at the light on your skin. Are there shadows interacting or casting light in your scene? Study the light and utilize it to take better shots. 

This was captured on a very very cold winter day hike in Idaho.Notice how the tree is a dark silhouette in front of me but in-between and on top of the branches they are lit as is the mist and the hillside in the distance. The mist and morning clouds filtered the sun really uniquely that morning. Setting up this gorgeous shot for me. This is a great example of reading and using the light around you.

Use your flash during the day

This may seem counter-intuitive. When I first started using my flash during the day I was amazed at the effect. If it is an extremely bright day outside and the sun is creating harsh shadows on your subject, switch on your flash. By forcing extra light onto your subject, you will be able to fill in those ugly shadows and create an even exposure. This technique also works great for subjects standing in front of a windows whom would otherwise just be a dark shadow.

During the last minutes of this sunset in Tobyhanna State Park in PA., I was struggling to capture the sun's amazing color and the leaves in front of me. The leaves kept exposing black because the sun was in front of me. I turned on my flash to highlight the leaves and it worked very well. I was able to capture the sunset and show the autumn leaves beautiful red color as well.

Lighten up the mood

Nature is my passion. Capturing the beauty of our world and bringing back to people who would otherwise never get the opportunity to experience that place in person is the sole reason I became a photographer. I am a landscape photographer at heart. As a result, I do not particularly enjoy portrait photography. It is a completely different skill set. I did however, just from common sense, stumble onto a great way of getting that natural beautiful smile out of my family and friends when I am shooting them. Sometimes it is the well-timed joke. Drop the age old “say cheese” or “smile”! If you can’t think of a quick joke, share a hilarious event that had everyone in the family cracking up. It works every time.

The second thing you can do is to observe everyone in your shot very closely as you are framing them. Be present and with the group or subject. Do not just stare at them through the camera and never lower it. As you do this keep the camera in burst mode. This way you get several before and after shots. Someone is always blinking or looking the wrong way in a large group. Telling jokes as they settle in for the picture brings out their natural smiles-and then don’t tell them you are shooting yet. Sometimes when you say “ready”, people can’t help it, but they get that deer in the headlights look and freeze up. Sometimes it is your fault. You had them holding a forced smile for too long while you were getting ready to shoot. Laughing, joking and shooting without always telling them will bring your portraits to a new level. Shooting a natural laugh and smile is very rewarding. It will also reduce the amount of shots that people tell you that they look horrible in it and make you delete it. Try it!

My all time favorite picture of my beautiful wife. Makes me laugh every time. Excellent deer-in-the-headlight example lol.

By keeping your finger on the button in burst mode, more often than not you will capture the natural laugh and smile. This photo is right after Britta said yes again when we renewed our vows on Orcas Island.
Learn more

It’s the photographer not the camera. Marketing brainwashes us into thinking more, bigger, better! This is simply not the case with photography. If you do not have an eye or developed the skills needed to take good shots, then guess what? You are just going to take bad pictures with an expensive camera. If you blindly bought the newest high-count megapixel camera then you will be able to blow up your bad shots really large! Essentially the higher the megapixel the larger print you can make. I’ve seen some absolutely amazing images shot with nothing more than an iPhone. Books, internet forums and photography blogs will do more for your photography than a new camera ever will. Forums especially have come into their own in-so-far as helping photographers of all levels. Search the web and join a couple. If you do not have the Amazon kindle reader yet I highly recommend downloading it and trying some free downloads for your photography library!

Stop looking at your camera so much

A bad habit we all do is to immediately look at the back of the camera to check a shot right after we take it. Try to have more confidence in your set-up and framing and just shoot. Constantly checking your shots in-between shots will often times result in you missing the action! Check them later. It is a habit I work to break myself. When Britta is shooting on a vacation she never looks and will not even let me look at her shots until we get home!


This technique is the building block to all your photography. I use it when I want to draw attention to something in my photograph. By framing a scene or a subject your photo will naturally lead the viewer’s eye to the primary focal point allowing them to see what you intended them to see better. When outside, I have used hanging tree branches to frame a shot or natural space through a bush that show my focal point out in the distance. When you are inside, try using a doorway or a window frame.
Framing creates a focal point that leads your audience into the photo. The branch in this photo I captured on Priest Lake caps the sky off and the leading of the canoe draws your attention into the center of the lake.
Evensong is available for sale at Joseph Noonan Photography
One of my favorite dramatic shots, Forgotten, captured in Bannack State Park, a ghost town in Montana. I used the chair and window to convey a story of longing or waiting . The window frames this effect perfectly.
Forgotten is available for sale at Joseph Noonan Photography

Shape with light

Never shoot with the sun directly behind you. It creates boring, flat light on the subject. On vacation this is hard. Most mid-day sun light is flat. Post production can help. If you are able, try shooting with the sun light off to the side or behind your subject. When you are able to shape with the light then you will create photographs that have more detail and will be much more interesting to look at.
Shaping the light for your photographs will help you create what it is you see in that shot that you are trying to convey to your audience. I drove by this abandoned drive-in on a road trip to Leavenworth, Wa. The sun was high noon and not the greatest. By moving around, I was able to get the angle that casted shadows to helped set the tone for this photo. The shadows add to the sense of long time abandonment.
Better Days is available for sale at Joseph Noonan Photography

Shutter speed

Below 1/125th when doing handheld shots is about as low as I can go before I have shake or blur in my shots. Being aware of your shutter speed means the difference between taking a blurry photo and a sharp photo. It all depends on what you are after. This is an essential skill and one you will use every time you are out photographing. Get your camera off Auto! Read about shutter speeds, practice different settings, understand what the effect faster or slower has on a shot. You can be very creative once you master this skill. Action? Sports? Faster speeds and fast focus are needed. Nature and landscape shots? Try a tripod and slow shutter speeds. Color saturation is better as well as effects that might imply movement like passing clouds or water in a stream. When you slow down the shutter you will need a tripod or use a structure nearby to stay stable against like a tree or a rock. Handheld slow speed shutter technique requires you are very still. Inhale and hold then gently press the shutter button. Stay very still through the shot. Depending on how long your exposure the shutter may still be open so remain motionless until you hear it close.

I captured this shot in the Delaware Water Gap State Park, NJ/PA. It was well after sun down and dark but I did not want to leave. I was having a creative moment. I used a tripod and set the shutter on a 30 second timer to capture this. The available light was strictly the evening sky. This is an excellent example of how slowing down the shutter can create interesting effects in your photography.

Charge your batteries

Britta and I trained ourselves to plug in the cameras the night before we leave on a trip. I also want spares and back-ups with me as well. Invest in multiple batteries and various methods of charging them. A portable USB charging block, a car adapter and a multiple battery charging station are excellent accessories to add to your kit. 

I charge up and keep a portable battery charger in my camera bag at all times. Great for cell phone top offs as well.

I also invest in at least one extra battery for all my cameras. Purchase a multiple battery charger and remember to plug them in immediately that night when you get back from the field. Nothing is worse then running out of juice in the field . Trust me, been there, done that.

Visualize more

When you’re not shooting try to visualize shots with your mind. Go to your favorite quiet place you frequent when hiking or revisit a cliff you have sat on and practice shooting it. Work out the scene, the light, the composition and take the shot in your mind. You will be surprised how effective this little trick is at developing your eye. When out in the field for real the next time your practiced eye will start to pick up on the subtle cues faster that will make your pictures “pop”.
I hiked with my dog on Patriots Path in Morristown National Park on average of once a week for years. I tried and tried to capture the trail but it would never give me that "pop". Talk about visualizing a shot. I thought about this one for years. One day right after a rain the scene just revealed itself the lighting was perfect. I framed the path perfect so it led the audience into and down the path. Take A Hike is available for sale at Joseph Noonan Photography

Have a camera on you at all times

How many times have you wished you had your camera on you to get that amazing shot that just came into view on a road trip? Our how many fascinating sunsets do you wish you could have captured? When I was learning photography, I had my bag in the back seat 24/7. I was always shooting random quick shots. Do not be afraid to stop and grab something that interests you. With the progress of the iPhone’s camera spec’s, I have that with me 24/7 now. If I do pass something that excites my inner creativity and I want to photograph it, I find myself shooting it quick with my iPhone to kind of mark it for later. If it is a location that I pass frequently and it is a spot that I always find myself saying, “one of these days I need to capture that shot”, then I will use it in the visualization technique I just mentioned. That way, when the universe gifts me that perfect shot, I am ready to take it. I have done this with several roadside lakes and mountains over the years. Just be ready to capture it!

Make sure you always carry your gear in a good functional camera bag. I have used a Kata 3N1 Sling bag for 10 years and it has been around the world. Kata is now owned by Manfrotto but it is still the same great bag. Excellent features and quick attachment point for my tripod case. the sling is quick and easy to grab your camera quick and capture a shot. The bag design always you to rest your elbows on it like a make shift surface to steady your lens for shots. Love this bag.

The magic or golden hours

The golden hour or hours is quite simply the first and last hour of sunlight everyday. The light is particularly soft when transitioning from dark to full light and back. Colors are more vibrant during this time. Plan any important landscape or portrait shots be taken during this magical light.

Golden Hour lighting is a photographers best friend
The color saturation at Golden Hour will always yield your best results. Start planning your outdoor shots during these hours. This fall shot I captured in Manito Park in Spokane is a great example of the light. Two hours earlier this scene was flat and not as vibrant.

Keep it simple

This goes with tip one I wrote about earlier. Don’t try to pack too many elements into your image; it will just end up looking messy. Step up or zoom in and fill your frame. In addition, especially if it is a landscape photo, do not include more than one or two points of interest. Sometimes too much info can confuse your audience as to what they should be looking at. Ask yourself as you are setting up your shot, “What is interesting about this picture?” If you can’t single out one or two points of interest then move on. I like to pan around and zoom in and out until that sweet spot appears.

Try keeping your shots to one or two elements. Keep it simple.
While this shot is very pretty to look at, I forced the tree into the scene to frame it. Instead of helping, it took away from the shot. Too many elements can ruin the balance of a photo.
Keep your shots simple. By focusing on just one or two elements, your audience is drawn into your photography not confused as to what they should be looking at.
Summer Rain is available for sale at Joseph Noonan Photography


Stop taking standard chest height level photos. Change the viewers line of perspective into your shot. Crouch down, kneel, lie on your stomach, climb a tree, a fence, a rock, anything! Changing your line of perspective to the subject creates an engaging interesting shot. Getting low, for example, can make your subject more dynamic as opposed to getting high on your subject which can reduce their dynamic impact. Try it right now with a selfie. Take one of yourself from above you and one below. See the impact of these two perspectives? For landscape shots, get away from the standard height. Hold your camera at water level or ground level on a trail. Set-up the tripod on the roof of your car to include more foreground. The elevation will point your camera down and allow you to capture more foreground. Move around more, change your lines. This results in conveying a more dynamic striking visual in your photographs. I use this with every shot I take. Get interesting!

Getting low to the ground changes the perspective of your photos
By kneeling down and holding my camera just above the water, I'm able to change the foreground of this shot. It extends the rocks out into the frame creating an exaggerated length of the shallows that leads your eye out into the scene.

try changing perspective in your photos. Elevation captures an angle not normally seen by your audience.
Britta captured this shot of me in Montana when we were on a Road Trip seeing the state. Ansel Adams, an idol of mine, used an elevated perch. It provides a perspective that people don’t normally experience. It can make the photograph a little more distinctive and unique.
Ansel Adams shown on top of his Ford Woody station wagon around 1941-42 in Yosemite National Park. Adams constructed a mounted platform, where he would perch his large format camera on a tripod and shoot.
Ansel Adams was often seen using an elevated perch to capture his iconic images.

Be aware of backgrounds

What’s in your frame? Photo bombs are funny but not if you wanted that special shot and will not return there for a long time. Pay attention. Friends and family often post or send me great photos and I think “didn’t they see power lines or wall or ugly signs?” Try to remember, your camera captures everything besides your subject. What is included around or behind your photograph can make or break a great picture. Sometimes I will ask someone to move for me and they will. Do not be afraid to ask. Other times I stare with hatred until they move, just kidding. You get the point. It’s everything else in the background that can make or break a great photograph. So don’t be afraid to ask the person to move (or move yourself) to avoid something ugly in the background.

It's All about The
Photo bombed and never knew it! I was laying on my hip balanced on a rock, my feet were on another and I steadied myself with my right hand on another as I carefully shot this holding my camera one handed. Because of the glare and my concentration, my buddy Bailey snuck in and I never knew until I got home. Love that dog :) Gave me a good laugh when I saw it for the first time.


This goes back to understanding light and its effect on your subject. If you are in the sun and your subject is not, guess what? Bad shot. Shade can be your best friend. If there is no way you can make the available light work for your photo, shoot in the shade. You’ll get a nice even exposure with no patchy highlights throughout your shot. Again, this is just paying attention to how the light is interacting in your picture. Use it.

Use the available light don't force it.
While hiking Mount Constitution on Orcas Island, I was struck by this scene. I couldn't get out of the shade to capture it. So I backed up and stayed in the shade and kept the path and rock in the shade as well. That gave a much more evenly lit picture.

Rule of Thirds 

My favorite! In fact, I should list this tip twice. The simplest of techniques that yields the best results. If you do not have your camera’s grid pattern overlay turned on, stop reading this and go turn it on.
 I’ll wait... Got it on? Great! Ok, what is it? How will it help? The rule of thirds is a principle that divides your camera frame into three vertical and three horizontal sections. By placing subjects on the various thirds within the frame, the composition of your photos became engaging and balanced and pleasing to look at. Let’s say you are at the beach taking pictures. Place the sand on the lower horizontal third of the shot, this leaves a balanced and straight look out into the ocean and sky. Play with that. Try placing just the sky in the upper third only. Does it look better or worse? For the subject or point of interest in your photo, try placing it to the left or right vertical third leaving 2/3rd's to the side of your subject open. Do you see how much more balance is in you shot now? Put your subject on the lower third line and intersection line of the right or left vertical third, magic! Balance! Beautiful negative space next to your subject that is interesting to look at and enhances the dynamics or the location they are in. If you master one technique I discuss, this is the one that will reap the greatest rewards. As a side bonus the grid lines will also help you get your horizon line straight!
I captured this traveling through Montana and literally pulled onto the shoulder on westbound route 90 outside of Billings, MT. As far as explaining rule of thirds I do not think I could provide a better example. Each layer on this beautiful mountain scene is perfectly aligned on its own horizontal third. The foreground grass and dirt on the lower, the mountains on the middle and the mountains on the upper third. The balance of this shot is very pleasing to look at. It is one of my wife's favorites. Pause and Reflect is available for sale at Joseph Noonan Photography.

This lone fisherman was captured on a vacation around New Year's in Scotland. This is on Loch Nell just outside the town of Oban, Scotland. I placed this fisherman on the left third horizontal which created all the negative space above and to his right to show the scene and mood. Think how bad this would look if I had just zoomed in and placed him in the center. It robs the audience of the feeling of the area he is in.

Try placing subjects on the intersections of your frames thirds for visual impact.
I captured this on Hayden Lake in Northern Idaho one morning. This lone fisherman out on the lake at sunrise on a rainy morning just spoke to me. Notice the fisherman's boat, I placed it on the right vertical third intersection with the bottom third horizontal. This created the negative space on top and to the left that gives the audience the size of the space as well as communicating the sense of solitude and peace this fisherman had before I showed up!

Click the amazon link below to watch a free tutorial on the rule of thirds.


Hold your camera properly

You might not know it, but there is a right way and a wrong way to hold a DSLR camera. The correct way is to support the lens by cupping your hand underneath it. This is usually done with the left hand, with your right hand gripping the body of the camera. This helps to prevent camera shake. If you are gripping your camera with your hands on either side of the camera body, there is nothing supporting the lens, and you might end up with blurry photos. To get an even more stable stance, tuck your elbows into the side of your body.

Inspiration from all forms be patient and persevere 

With time, patience, and perseverance, you will get better with each and every photo you take. Go have fun with it.

Break the rules

Now that you know some of the rules, go ahead and break them! Experiment. Have fun. Learn from your mistakes. Make up your own tips and techniques for taking fantastic photographs. I’d love to hear them.

Head over to my other article about Photography and Traveling: When Your phone Is Not Good Enough

Life, It's All About The Ride. Go out and live it to the fullest! As always please subscribe to our newsletter so you never miss a ride!


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Joe Noonan said…
Thanks! Glad you liked it.
Marie Ronald said…
The article you've shared here is fantastic because it provides some excellent information that will be incredibly beneficial to me. Thank you for sharing
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Joe Noonan said…
Glad it helped you Marie. I wrote this article to share with all levels of photographers. sharing my knowledge is a joy knowing it helps!