Family Travel

PHOTO TIPS: Seeing Beyond the Light

Me Ra Koh

The constant Seattle downpours remind me of this very fact:  We don’t always have the fortune of breathtaking light.  When we do, we relish the precious, vibrant light of sunrise or sunset.  But when we don’t, we’ve got to be intentional about seeing beyond the light.  We’ve got to be on the lookout for stories around us.

This scene caught my eye.  The stone washed temple ruins, a horse, AND random, wooden chair!

Seeing beyond the light when taking travel photos.  Searching for story elements with Me Ra Koh in Angkor Wat Cambodia.

Plus, this isn’t any horse.  This is a dressed up horse. 

I had to capture this scene.  I felt like it would be one of those images that I could look back on in the future to inspire my photography, writing, or remind me to be open to the unexpected in my creativity.  The horse and simple, wooden chair were so unexpected for where we were.

The above image is unprocessed.  I have not touched it up on my computer.  Right off the bat, you can tell that this wasn’t sunrise or sunset lighting like the first one.  Nope, pretty much middle of the day sunlight.  Needless to say, the light wasn’t adding much drama. 

But seeing beyond the light helped me recognize other great components.

This is when I take an image into Adobe’s Lightroom and touch it up.  I up’d my Blacks, added a little bit of Contrast, a subtle Vignette around the outer edges, and got rid of that blue jacket on the ground.  This was my final result. 

Seeing beyond the light when taking travel photos.  Searching for story elements with Me Ra Koh in Angkor Wat Cambodia.

These changes helped me finish off the photo so that the unusual, magical details stood out more.

I’m a busy mom, wife and business woman. 

I refuse to spend hours upon hours sitting at my computer applying endless changes to my photos. 

I simply can’t.  I’m not in love with being on my computer.  I’m in love with shooting.  To be able to shoot more and post process my images less, I have to set my photo shoots up for success.  I schedule shoots to happen around ideal light like sunset.  But, I can’t always make that happen.  That is when I have to forget about my search for ideal light and look for the details that catch my eye.

And then I’ve got to promise myself to NOT spend a hour, or even 30 minutes, altering the image on my computer.  I promise yourself to work at becoming better and better with my exposures and understanding of light because the better I get at dancing with light the less post process I’ll need to do.

Then I take a deep breath and give a long exhale.  Ultimately, I want to savor my time with the family and not get caught up in striving for perfection. Brian never struggles with striving for perfection. LOL!

How to Capture Drama in Your Travel Photos from Me Ra Koh in Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Have you ever wanted to be so much better at your photography RIGHT NOW? 

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all there is to learn but can’t seem to get away from wanting to learn more and more?  It’s in moments like this that I remind myself of my love for photography because the lessons of light and capturing what you see are endless. 

On some days the endlessness of it all will stress me out.  On other days, it will be the inspiration that lifts me above my daily burdens.  To persevere through the ebb and flow of that changing tide, to not find ourselves drowning, this is the commitment we make as artists.

Want more inspiration? Learn about capturing silhouettes of your family with this fun photo tip recipe.


Me Ra

For more photo lessons on how to Capture the Story around you, check out our award winning DVD, Refuse to Say Cheese.  For more technical help with Aperture and Shutter Speed, check out Beyond the Green Box!


  1. Lindsay Baumgartner says:

    Thank you Me Ra!! I love your desire to learn more. I find it amazing to think that someone I admire so much is still trying to learn. That is what is so human and genuine about you. No inflated sense of worth or knowledge, just the right size Me Ra. Thank you for all you learn and teach to all of us. We are blessed by it all!!

  2. You just have to take it one step at a time! I’ve learned throughout my time with photography that you will growth through practice. It amazes me to look back on photos from a couple years ago and measure it against what I produce now, it’s almost like look at a completely different photographer’s work.

    In the beginning, I think that I spent more time mucking up photos in photoshop when I was a newbie. Whereas, now, I’m like you in that I hate to spend extra time post-processing if I don’t have to.


  3. Ashley J says:

    Your last paragraph got me. I feel SO overwhelmed at times and want to give up. I can’t do it though. There IS a lot to learn, and I enjoy photography too much to just lay down and give up. Many times (including now) I am dragging myself through the muck, but I know if I stay faithful to keep growing and learning I will eventually find what I’m looking for. The reward is so much bigger than the struggle.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for your encouragement! Can’t wait to thank you in person someday.

  4. Ashley J says:

    Oh, and the ‘Black’ tool in Lightroom is probably my favorite tool in my tool box! Well, next to the ‘Brighten’ tool anyway.

  5. Jamie says:

    I appreciate your posts so much Me Ra…All of your tips and examples are so helpful. I do feel so overwhelmed by everything that I don’t know yet but I do have to say I have learned more in the 3 months I’ve been reading your blog than I’ve learned in 2 years! (You’re DVD’s are AWESOME by the way)
    Thanks for all the examples and tips they help so much!

  6. Love the concept of “Dancing with the Light”. Beautiful!

  7. Christina B says:

    totally needed this (and yesterday blogs too) i took my girls to a park near by for some Easter pics. the sun was setting and thought it looked beautiful!! BUT couldnt seem to capture it in my camera.
    I did edit them in light room to give some umph. ) But I really want to learn how to set my camera to see what I see. i do have to say, since following you and going to your workshop, less editing and more pictures =)

    Ive set up some practice shoots at the same place & time so i can play with my camera, any advise?

  8. Me Ra says:

    Christina, those images of the girls are BEAUTIFUL!!!! I love what you did in post process to them. Not overdone but like you said, a little umph in all the right ways.

    To help with capturing the sunset light and rim light around the girls, check your camera’s metering. Try Partial Metering mode and see if that makes a difference. let us know if that helps!


  9. Nickie says:

    As always you always say what I needed to hear. The learning process can be so frustrating but I know that it will pay off. Thanks for sharing your tips and encouragment.

  10. That chair! Oh, that chair!

  11. shawna says:

    me ra, we are very lucky out here to have soft window lighting though. it’s what i rely on when it’s dreary outside!

    i love your post processing here. i’d rather not work in elements if i can avoid it, but i can’t seem to keep the clone tool in lightroom from leaving circles everywhere. definitely something i need to spend more time on.

    i, too am guilty of wanting to be better Right Now. But already I’m better than I was yesterday. After every shoot I journal about what I did right and specifics on what I’ll do better next time – that’s how I stay content with my work even if it’s not someone else’s best. every shoot i do, i notice that i have less to process afterward. my framing is better and i use the light more wisely. learning is a slow process for a reason. :O)

  12. Linda says:

    That’s a really nice photo. Nice work, as always. =)

  13. Jen MacNiven says:

    I remember that same spot when I was there last year…so amazing. Loved the pics at sunrise. Can’t say I woke up early, but I got some cool stuff at sunset! Can’t wait to see more…always love your descriptions too…brings so much more life to the pictures!

  14. Jamie says:

    I was wondering if you could tell me if you always shoot raw. Are there times when you shoot only in jpeg or is it all raw all the time? Raw has always intimidated me and I was wondering what your thoughts on this are…

  15. Christina B says:

    Thank you MeRa!! you dont know how much it means to me to see what you wrote! Really!!

    I do have my camera set on partial metering but since you said that it got me thinking more about metering. I do find myself to meter on the brighter side.. so im going to try to meter on the darker side. (if any of that made sense, i dont know the camera

    My practice shoot i have set up is in a week so ill let you know how i make out!!!

    Thank you again =D

  16. Me Ra Koh says:

    I totally hear you Christina!

    And Jamie, yes, I am always shooting in RAW mode. Try not to be intimidated. It’s just a bigger file size all in all which means you can make adjustments to it without the adjustments destroying your image. Maybe we should do a blog post on this topic alone.

  17. Jamie says:

    Thanks so much Me Ra… a blog post dedicated to Raw would be FABULOUS!