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How To: Document a Destination

Cruising with his camera, and Tamron 14-150mm lens, is how Ralph Romaguera is enjoying his post-retirement years.

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By Jenn Gidman
Images by Ralph Romaguera

Ralph Romaguera has a storied photographic career, starting with the photos he took in the Navy 40 years ago and leading up to the present day, with he and his wife, Cindy, helping out at the New Orleans-area family photo studio he's now retired from (his two sons and two son-in-laws run the business now), taking care of their nine grandkids, and traveling.

"I actually have seven cruises booked between now and next November," Ralph says. "What's really nice is that Royal Caribbean, the line we sail on most of the time, will be bringing a ship to New Orleans soon, so if there's a last-minute jump-on opportunity, Cindy and I will be able to do that. Cruising is so relaxing."

Ralph naturally always brings his camera along, and he explains his photographic philosophy. "When I was a little boy, there was a program on Saturday mornings called Learn to Draw with John Gnagy," he explains. "He would take a square and then add a triangle onto the top of the square, and then add a few rectangles as the windows and door, and there you had a house. What that has to do with my photos: Photography is 'photo-graphy'—the science of light, combined with the study of shape and design. My travel photography, just like my portrait photography, follows that premise. It's very simplistic: Do you like the light? Do you like the shape and design? How do you make a three-dimensional statement out of a two-dimensional piece of paper or a digital file?"

In terms of lighting, Ralph is always ready to shoot at any time of day. "That sweet light in the early morning and late afternoon that portrait photographers love is really nice," he says. "But if I'm on a cruise and have to get back to the ship by 6 p.m., I can't wait for that pretty lighting in the evening. I'm there to document a place, so I have to do what I have to do and understand how to do it."

One of the newest lenses to find its way into Ralph's travel bag: the Tamron 14-150mm. "I've been playing with digital a long time, and what I've said since day one: You have to have the right camera and the right lens for the job. iPhones work for certain on-the-fly photos, but I'm a photographer—I have to have a real camera with real controls. When I saw this lens last April and how compact it was, I knew it would be perfect for taking along on my cruises. I do mostly handheld shooting, and with this lens I can basically carry a small camera with this lens on it around my wrist. I'm impressed with how sharp the images come out."

Here are some of Ralph's recent travel photos and his recommendations for capturing your own destination images:

Look for leading lines.

© Ralph Romaguera
14mm, F/9, 1/800th sec., ISO 200

At Maho Beach on Dutch St. Maarten, the planes head into the island's airport right over the beachgoers. They fly over the beach every five or 10 minutes, and it can get really loud. I was standing on a platform at the restaurant/bar there at around noon, and I decided to try to capture one of the planes flying over. I got a bunch of practice shots; this is the photo I ended up liking best. You have the Corona umbrellas providing the leading lines, leading the viewer's eye into the distance. The row in the middle pretty much goes straight back, while the two flanking it cut in on an angle.

© Ralph Romaguera
35mm, F/9, 1/500th sec., ISO 200

This photo of San Juan's harbor was taken from my balcony on the cruise ship. It's the diagonals, that water hitting the wharf, that brings your eye right into the city. I also wanted to incorporate that dramatic sky into the photo. When I have an element like that, I'll often pump up the contrast a bit using a Nik filter just to make it pop a little more.

Be on the constant lookout for spontaneous photo opportunities.

© Ralph Romaguera
14mm, F/10, 1/800th sec., ISO 200

Not only huge jetliners fly over Maho Beach right before landing. You've also got smaller aircraft that come in. I happened to be standing on the beach and had just turned around to face the water when I spotted this smaller plane coming in for a landing. Because I had that small, light 14-150 by my side, I was able to quickly bring my camera up and capture this image. If I'd had more time to compose the shot, I would've straightened the horizon and cropped it in a little closer, but I still liked how it showed this moment in time.

Tap into the longer end of your lens when you need to stay back.

© Ralph Romaguera
150mm, F/7.1, 1/640th sec., ISO 200

Maho Beach is a beautiful beach, as long as you don't go within 10 feet of where you're not supposed to go. You can see that the plane in the first image is about 50 feet over the beachgoers. It winds up being 10 feet or so over the fence at the back of the beach before it lands, and when it hits the runway, you get a super-strong blowback. If you're at the fence, you'd better hold on tight if that's the game you want to play. Unfortunately, people don't heed this warning all of the time; a woman was recently killed by the blowback from one of the landing planes.

For me, if a sign is telling me I could suffer "extreme bodily harm and/or death" if I make too close of an approach, I'm going to stay pretty far back. That's where the 150mm end of this lens came in particularly handy, because I wanted to show the sign and all of the stickers people had placed all over it.

Take environmental pictures of people.

© Ralph Romaguera
150mm, F/6.3, 1/640th sec., ISO

I also took this photo of a fisherman from the cruise ship. The shape of the boat is appealing to the eye, and seeing such a tiny person in the big ocean also offers a sense of scale. You have the texture and subtly varying shades of the water to complete the image.

Look for details that show local flavor.

© Ralph Romaguera
70mm, F/5.6, 1/60th sec., ISO 500

Royal Caribbean has its own private area in Haiti, which is where we were when I took this photo of a local vendor. I felt like this scene was an honest rendering of the beach vibe that was there. Plus, it goes back to the design elements I talked about earlier—you have all of these circles (the hats), and then, as your eye moves to the right, suddenly you hit a colorful rectangle (the beach painting). Your mind is subconsciously registering that, whether you realize it or not.

To see more of the Romaguera family's work, go to www.romaguera.com.

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