A Guide to Travel Photography
Travel and photography go hand in hand. Everyday life to the locals may very well be something special and unique to a foreign visitor, something that will create a lasting memory through photography. Over the years I’ve taken a whole lot of travel photos… TONS of bad ones, some good ones, and a very select few great ones.I’ve certainly learned a lot over time – through mostly trial and error I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. And while the actual act of pressing the shutter button is simple, there’s a whole lot more that goes into to creating a great travel photo.
1) It starts before you leave for the airport
Think about your trip. Why are you traveling? What interests you about the area? What do you want to learn about this place? What local customs are you most curious about? As the image above demonstrates, travel photography can be very spontaneous: I saw the couple walking along the huge pillars, I quickly positioned myself such that I could contrast the size of the people against the size of the pillars, and I took the photo. But it wasn’t an accident. I was in The Vatican; I knew the architecture would be large and imposing, and I had wanted to explore that before I even got on the airplane. If you are going to a completely new area, check others’ photos onflickr to see what kind of photographic opportunities might present themselves.
2) Pack wisely
Now that you have some idea of what kinds of photos you want to capture, you’ll know what to pack. If you have a point and shoot camera, great! You can keep it in your pocket and be done with it. If you have a collection of camera lenses, bodies, and other gear you’ll have to be selective based on what kinds of pictures you’ll be capturing. The above photo in San Francisco was possible because I had a long zoom. If you’re going trekking in Nepal you probably don’t want to bring a heavy 70-200 f2.8 lens. If you’re going on a wildlife safari you’ll want all the reach those telephoto lenses will give you, despite the weight.
When you pack, keep the flight in mind. Airplanes are full these days and overhead bin space is tight. The absolute last thing you’ll want to check is your photo gear. I always carry my gear in a separate bag and keep it with me at all times. I also try to carry on my main bag, but if there’s no overhead space I can freely check it while holding onto all of my camera equipment. Travel and camera insurance is recommended.
3) Get a feel for the area and start shooting!
Once you’ve arrived, start exploring. Make some mental notes of places to return to when the light is better. Try to find a high vantage point. The above image was captured in Punta Arenas, Chile. From looking at photos before the trip I already knew there was a high point in the city. Upon arrival, I figured out where it was and how to get there. I also previsualized the shot: I thought a panoramic at dusk would look best, so I made a mental note to return. You can do this with your own photography. Find an interesting spot, ask yourself what kind of light would make it look best, and return later. Of course, while you are getting a feel for the area you’ll have your camera with you. So if you see something interesting, snap away!
4) Spontaneous moments: They aren’t so spontaneous.
The above image was captured after sunset in Goa, India. While the moment looks pretty spontaneous, it was far from it. I knew the light was dim, thus I had a lot of latitude with the shutter speed. I chose a slow(ish) speed, I waited for a vendor to walk in front of my camera, and I snapped as he entered the right third of the frame. I even tried to time it such that his legs would be captured mid-step. While the moment itself was fleeting, I had visualized every aspect of this image before it actually happened.
5) Use jetlag to your advantage
I absolutely love early mornings. The day is still, there are few people out, and there is a sort of quiet surrealness to everything as golden light pierces the dark sky. But I’m not a morning person. In fact I despise waking up early! This is where jetlag becomes a beautiful thing, you’ll be up at all hours of the day/night. Don’t force it – if your body says it needs to be awake, lying in bed staring at the ceiling isn’t going to help. Instead, use the opportunity to get out and take photos at times when you’d otherwise be sleeping.
5) Sometimes you get lucky
I got lucky with the above image of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow, Russia. I knew I wanted to return at dusk to capture some longer exposures. I set up my tripod and started shooting – it was only after I shot the image that I noticed the kissing couple in the lower left corner. They turned an otherwise average shot into something special. Of course, sometimes you don’t get lucky so keep shooting. By setting up the tripod and pressing the shutter button, you’ll create opportunities to get lucky with fleeting moments.
6) If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong!
If you get sick of taking pictures, leave your camera behind for a day. If you’re busy exploring, meeting people, etc then forget finding that vantage point at dusk. Other photo opportunities will certainly present themselves, ones that you’d have missed if you were running from place to place searching for the best possible photo. I leave my camera behind all the time. Forcing yourself to go take sunrise photos when you’d rather sleep in is a great way to spoil your enjoyment in a hurry. So sleep in, relax, and enjoy the trip! Use photography as a way to increase your enjoyment and create some lasting memories.
Do you have more tips for creating great pictures on the road? Share them below!