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How to Take Epic Travel Photos in French Polynesia

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How to Take Epic Travel Photos in French Polynesia
French Polynesia is a palm-fringed oasis of basalt beaches, mossy mountain spires, and turquoise lagoons. These islands have captivated explorers for centuries—and recently won your votes for AFAR Travelers’ Choice Awards: Epic Trip. To bring the appeal of French Polynesia into focus, we sent AFAR Ambassador and Nikon shooter Flash Parker on a first-time visit, along with a new Nikon D7500 to document the journey. Check out his photographs of essential island experiences, along with tips to help ensure the images from your next trip are as vivid as your memories.
Sponsored by Nikon
Photo by Flash Parker, shot on a Nikon D7500
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    The Four Seasons Bora Bora
    I shot this image at sunrise from my overwater bungalow at the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora; sea conditions were rough, and winds were pushing clouds across the sky quickly. The Nikon D7500’s 60-second shutter speed helped smooth the water, and let the clouds streak across the sky. I used a shutter release and tripod to keep the camera steady. It’s an example of how long exposure images can communicate a sense of peace and calm.
    Photo by Flash Parker, shot on a Nikon D7500
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    The Catch of the Day
    In this image from the Municipal Market in Papeete, I took advantage of diffuse natural light pouring in through large open doors to beautifully illuminate these fish. I got tight with a wide angle, using the AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.8G ED lens, and cut off parts of bodies along all sides of my frame to convey the sense of an endless repeating pattern. When shooting a flat subject such as this, it’s fine to use a wide aperture, as everything on the same flat plane will stay in focus.
    Photo by Flash Parker, shot on a Nikon D7500
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    Vendors at the Municipal Market
    I love shooting environmental portraits—they have the power to communicate so much about a destination. I photographed these two women at their stall in Papeete’s Municipal Market; I opted for a wide focal length, so that I could capture their wares, as well as the busyness of their workplace. When shooting travel portraits, look for environmental elements that tell a story about who your subject is, and what it is they do.
    Photo by Flash Parker, shot on a Nikon D7500
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    The Common Waxbill
    Wildlife photography can be tricky, but it’s also incredibly rewarding to capture a native species in an exotic land. The common waxbill, pictured here, is not particularly rare, but it is difficult to photograph – it’s small, fast, and uneasy around humans. Shooting this bird in the shade, I knew I needed a high shutter speed to freeze motion, and I also wanted a large aperture to render the background soft and out of focus. I dialed in my settings, and the Nikon D7500’s incredible focus engine and 3D-tracking software did the rest.
    Photo by Flash Parker, shot on a Nikon D7500
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    Back Roads of Moorea
    A cloud-scraping mountain in and of itself is lovely to photograph—and likely to be a popular subject. But you can make a common subject look fresh by getting creative with a less conventional approach. 4X4 safaris are big business in French Polynesia, especially on the rugged island of Moorea, with its vast rainforest interior. I made the 4X4 the focus of this photo and composed it so that the mountains served as dramatic background bookends, as if the driver had just come down off the mountain. The D7500 handled the high-contrast scene with ease—this camera has more stops of dynamic range than any DX sensor body I’ve ever used.
    Photo by Flash Parker, shot on a Nikon D7500
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    The Male Red Junglefowl
    The Nikon D7500 is a bokeh dream machine. Bokeh is a photography term for the out-of-focus areas of an image; in this case, everything behind the male red junglefowl. All you need to achieve this look is some fast glass like the NIKKOR AF-S 50mm f/1.4 (one of my favorite lenses) or the less expensive NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8, known as the “nifty fifty.” Shooting with an aperture as wide as f/1.4 does two things: It gives me beautifully soft bokeh, and it also allows enough light in for me to use a shutter speed fast enough to freeze this speedy chicken in action.
    Photo by Flash Parker, shot on a Nikon D7500
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    Pareo Artisans
    Experiment with wide-angle portraiture; you never know what the results will be. I shot this image while touring a pareo workshop on the island of Bora Bora. I made a number of portraits at 50mm, 105mm and even 140mm, but they were too tight, and didn’t tell a story of the place I was visiting. I zoomed out to 24mm and captured this artist in a candid moment of focus.
    Photo by Flash Parker, shot on a Nikon D7500
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    Timi, a Local Musician
    When shooting an up-close portrait, I generally start by focusing on my subject’s eyes. Viewers usually look at a person’s eyes, and if the eyes (and/or face) are out of focus, it will lessen the impact of your image. Timi was playing his drum in the shade, while the background was much brighter. Matrix metering would have measured the entire scene, and cast Timi in shadow. Instead, I used the D7500’s spot meter, and lit his face exactly the way I wanted to in spite of Bora Bora’s midday sun conditions.
    Photo by Flash Parker, shot on a Nikon D7500
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    Bora Bora's Iconic Mountains
    Be on the lookout for interesting framing opportunities. After shooting a hundred images of Bora Bora’s lush peaks, I wandered the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora looking for other perspectives. Here, I used the palm trees in the foreground to add an element of mystery (what might be hiding back there?) and lead the viewers’ gaze toward the mountains. The overwater bungalows add a dose of wish-you-were-here aspirational beauty.
    Photo by Flash Parker, shot on a Nikon D7500
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    A Humpback Whale at Play
    French Polynesia is an underwater playground of the highest caliber, and I knew that I wanted to take the new D7500 into the deep blue sea (in an air-tight underwater housing, of course). Light, or lack thereof, is my biggest concern when shooting underwater. Usually, I have two off-camera lights connected to my camera, but in this case, the juvenile whale was too far away for the lights to do any good. Instead, I used spot metering to gauge the light on the whale’s head, which provided me with an even exposure. At f/8, nearly the entire giant animal is in focus, and my shutter speed was just fast enough to keep it sharp.
    Photo by Flash Parker, shot on a Nikon D7500