You made it! You’re on St. John! If you’re anything like me, you’ve been counting the minutes to touch down since you hit the confirm button for your flight. Now you’re here, its all about capturing moments, right?
The Virgin Islands are surreal – unlike anywhere else on the planet. Capturing this beauty on camera is the best souvenir you can find. So, what is the best way to get those stunning shots, the shots that make you say, “Why buy a photo when I can frame my own?”
Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras (DSLR’s) are the most common style of camera, but can easily overwhelm with all their capabilities. If you’re uncertain about how to use the harder functions, let automatic (both auto with flash and without) work for you. Use the automatic setting to help you work on your composition, and as a starting point to work with settings like (M) manual, (A) aperture, and (S) shutter.
Remember, you need a shutter speed of at least 1200 to freeze fast motion, like a pelican flying. Seriously, you don’t want to miss whales breaching, iguanas climbing, or waves crashing by using the wrong setting. See how important this stuff is!
You can follow my recommendations for most cameras, not just DSLR’s. There is nothing wrong with a good old fashioned point and shoot or even some of the newer iPhones. The idea is to improve your shots and feel like a pro.
What camera do I use? I used to be a diehard Canon user, but I have to confess, I made the switch to a Nikon with the D5300, and I LOVE it!
How to Get the Best Shots on Land
The best times for photos are sunrise, sunset, and from noon to 2 PM, when the sun is high in the sky and beaming down on the water. It’s best to have a cloudless or partly cloudy sky. However, on cloudy days, you will get beautiful sunset and sunrise photos. Don’t be afraid of storm photography either.
There is always something to see! Like real estate, photos are about location, location, location! All of the scenic overlooks on North Shore Road are awesome! The less traveled East End offers unique photo moments. Driving out toward Concordia via South Shore Road is another great idea.
Here are my don’t miss spots:
1. Peace Hill and Dennis Bay
2. Leinster, Annaberg, and Waterlemon Cay – Perfect for everything from iconic ruins, to shallow blue water, to a gorgeous cay with stunning snorkeling!
3. Rams Head – Unbelievable views, moonrises, and sunrises. (You can make it!!! Just make sure you have coffee!)
4. Fortsberg – Shoot some canons in your pics – WOW!
5. Hurricane Hole – Some of the most beautiful water we have on island, don’t miss it!
In the past couple years, underwater cameras have made incredible advances. You can get an awesome point and shoot underwater camera that can be used on land – a great purchase for a trip to a tropical island. (Hint, hint, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.)
For underwater photography, the Olympus TG-4 gave me these vibrant and detailed shots at about 10 to 20 feet on a recent snorkel.
Most underwater cameras have an automatic underwater setting. For the ease of your snorkel, I highly recommend using this setting and giving it an auto-enhance in your editing later in the event you are unhappy with the colors.
How to Get the Best Underwater Shots
Shoot from the water – Shooting from the water is a unique vantage point for shooting beaches, or birds like pelicans. Take an amphibious approach to get you in stealthily close for wonderful shots of these majestic birds.
Stay shallow – Within 20 feet of the surface or less there is more light coming through, which will light up the coral and show more vibrance. Also, the coral tends to be healthier in shallower reef. Lastly, hovering over a shallow reef allows you to get in super close to all the beautiful fishes and sea life. Move very softly so as not to scare them away.
Some sea life will almost POSE for their close ups! – Many of our St. John sea animals are surprisingly comfortable posing for close ups, just don’t charge! For example, eels will open their mouths and look threatening. Really, they are not as ominous as they seem. They are perfect for a great photo!
We have bountiful turtles on our shorelines, and if you give them a good berth as you approach, you can often get very close for a photo and follow them as they swim.
Trumpet fish and squid also photograph beautifully, and if you swim toward a squid they generally light up and make a great photo.
Be careful to not touch the bright yellow fire coral! While the coral photographs well, it hurts!
Leave no trace – No photo is worth damaging our reefs, so please do not stand on the coral for a shot or hit the coral with your fins. If a shot is too hard to get, please let it go, another opportunity will arise!
Whatever camera you use, the most important shots are taken with your minds eye. Please don’t forget to put down the camera every once in a while and let the view sink in.
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About Leah Randall
I have been going back and forth to this beloved rock since 2004. When my Dad bought a scuba diving charter business in 2013, I made my move from off-island-local to for-real-local. Just as everyone does down here, I dabble in many things, and one of those things is photography.
I believe one of the best parts of a vacay is being able to look back and smile at those precious memories. Let me help you take the best pics you can on your trip to your favorite place in the world.
Want to go the extra step and do a for real photo shoot of your family while you’re down? I can help with that too – contact me through Facebook.