Travel is one of the primary reasons many people decide to become photographers, whether they are casual point-and-shooters, serious amateurs or even pros, many of whom love to take travel photos as a respite from the daily grind of their assignments. People like to preserve a record of where they’ve been and who and what they’ve seen and, of course, share those images with family members, friends and the whole world.
Many travel photography articles explain the details of exposure, composition, lighting and other techniques. In contrast to those, this PhotographyTalk article focuses a bit more on planning and tips related to the “doing” of travel photography.
1. Destination planning.
In most cases, you are aware of where you will be traveling, especially if it’s a vacation. You don’t always have to be definite about your destination for excellent travel photography opportunities, however. Often, a last minute, or casual, choice will result in finding yourself in a place with much to photograph. In addition, travel photography shouldn’t be limited to vacations. Although it may be more difficult to find the time, business trips can take you to places with exciting views, people, cultural events, etc.
2. Know about your destination before you arrive.
You’re much more likely to come home with some of your best travel photos ever if you spend some time prior to leaving to learn about your destination. Research the primary attractions, but also look for information about those that many travelers miss. Be aware of cultural events that are scheduled during your visit. Educate yourself about local customs and the appropriate dress codes to visit religious sites. With that information, you’re more likely to gain access to locations and situations that offer some of the best images. Knowing the weather conditions of your destination will not only ensure you packed the right clothes, but also adequate protection for your photography equipment.
3. Create a preliminary shooting schedule.
Take a tip from professionals who almost always prepare a shooting schedule and shot list in advance of their client shoots. By planning at least a preliminary, or loose, schedule and shot list before you arrive, you’ll be able to reserve time for visiting family and friends, seeing the sights in a group and exploring the area on your own for the express purpose of capturing the best photos.
4. Basic equipment tips.
Many of today’s compact cameras will do an excellent job of recording outstanding travel photos. More recent compacts now have optical zoom lenses of 10x or 20x zoom power that are the equivalent of a 500mm lens in 35mm format. This will allow you to take photos, especially of people, from quite a distance, so you remain undetected. Unless you want to take very serious travel photos and are an experienced DSLR camera photographer, you probably don’t want to carry these larger and heavier cameras all day. A good alternative is one of the newer mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (MILC) that often have DSLR features and capabilities, but are much smaller and lighter.
If you do plan to shoot your travel photography with a DSLR or MILC camera, then a mid-range zoom lens, such as 24–120mm, or an all-purpose zoom lens, such as 18–200mm, are your best choices.
Remember, virtually all photography equipment can be rented and often at your destination; so this may allow you to shoot with a much better camera and lens than you own. You can always shoot with a compact most of the time and rent a DSLR camera and lens locally for just one day of your travels.
5. Adjusting your plans.
When you first arrive at your destination, spend that initial period simply soaking in the general atmosphere, the people you see on the streets or any locations that you might want to photograph. Use these observations to adjust your schedule and shot list to what is actually happening there versus what you might have read online.
6. On the move.
When you’re ready to start your itinerary, consider the following tips that will enhance your travel photography opportunities.
No matter where you travel, the same rule applies when it comes to the best times of the day for photography: early morning and late afternoon/evening. The light is softer, casts interesting shadows and provides you with the contrast that distinguishes professional work from amateur snapshots.
Join the crowds. Don’t always shoot from a distance; become part of the community and its lifestyle by shooting from within the crowds. Better photos are captured when you are walking than riding in a car, bus or train. Learn how to shoot from the hip.
For this reason, you should carry your camera and lens at the ready, so you can react quickly to any opportunity, keeping your equipment secure as well.
Don’t hesitate to disregard your schedule for one day and just head in one direction or another. Often, great photos are those that suddenly appear and you would have never taken if you hadn’t allowed yourself to wander a bit.
When you do find very compelling subject matter, spend as much time as possible to capture a full complement of images. If a subject looks good from one angle or camera position, then it is sure to look equally good, or even better, from many angles, distances, high and low positions, etc.
7. Learn as you have fun.
Travel, in most cases, is a leisure, fun-filled activity, so try to achieve a good balance of simply having fun and using this rare opportunity to improve your skills and the quality of the photos you take home.