Read our trusted travel photography masterclass for your complete guide to creating perfect pictures that capture the joys of travel photography.
Travel Photography Masterclass – Research Your Destination
Although its possible to get good photos from any holiday, to guarantee great travel photography results it’s important to choose the right place to go, and then to plan your trip carefully beforehand. After you have decided where to go, you need to figure out when to go there. This may of course be determined for you by holiday allocation at work, and depending on the time of year, this may rule out your first-choice destination. India is a great place for travel photography, for example, but you might not want to visit during the Monsoon.
The internet, libraries and bookshops can provide some excellent background information and insight into your travel photography trip, and if you venture onto websites like Flickr you can search for pictures from the regions you’ll be travelling to, or even find groups dedicated to the area where like-minded photographers are usually happy to part with advice based on their own experience.
Remember that the more information you can gather about your chosen destination the more productive your trip will be. When you actually arrive, you can continue your research by visiting a tourist information office and collecting brochures, maps and so forth.
Travel Photography Masterclass – Know Your Equipment
Many people wait until the last minute to buy new equipment for a trip and then don’t get the most out of it when they come to use it. Ensure you’ve had plenty of time to familiarise yourself with your equipment prior to your journey; the last thing you will want to do when travelling is to start reading manuals, just when a great travel photography opportunity is staring you in the face. One common accident with new equipment is deleting images unintentionally. While image recovery software is available, learning in advance how the camera works will save you both time and money.
Choose a Camera Bag
If you are buying a bag specifically for your journey, think about your needs. A backpack is a comfortable way to carry heavy gear but isn’t so good for quick access – you have to take it off to get to your equipment. If you’re mostly shooting landscapes using a tripod, this won’t be such a problem, but for people pictures and general reportage this may become annoying.
Shoulder bags offer better access but you’ll be carrying all the weight on one shoulder which can affect your balance and posture, and cause backache. Rucksack-style bags that can be swung round for access, such as the Lowepro Slingshot, are a new development and may provide a compromise.
Hand Luggage Only!
Whatever you choose, make sure you can carry it onto flights as hand luggage – NEVER check your camera gear in the hold. One solution may be a backpack or case for transportation, plus something smaller for walking around with once you get to your destination. A bum-bag style bag can be good for keeping lenses and accessories in while you keep the camera round your neck.
A second DSLR body can be useful not only as a back-up, but as a second camera per se. By fitting different lenses to each (say a wideangle on one and telephoto on the other) you’ll be able to respond more quickly to events, and spend less time changing optics. Alternatively, consider taking a compact or a bridge camera as a backup. The quality of some of them makes them a viable option, and their lack of a mirror makes them almost silent in use.
Take plenty of spare media cards too, so you don’t run out. Several smaller cards are better than one giant one, from a security point of view. A portable hard disc or viewer would be a useful addition to your kit for downloading the cards to, for extra security – or, if you don’t mind carrying it, a laptop will give you the option for editing your pictures, and emailing or uploading them to a web space.
Don’t fall victim to thieves by staying aware of the people around you. Also, avoid advertising your camera equipment while travelling as this could make you a target. This might seem like common sense, yet many travel photographers forget this when they get caught up in the moment, especially when straying off the beaten track. Read up on local laws regarding what you are allowed to photograph too; these vary widely but researching them first could save you hassle later.
Take Out Adequate Insurance
Travel insurance does not always cover expensive camera equipment, nor items placed in the hold of a plane. Always check photographic equipment in as hand luggage, so that it’s on your person at all times. Choosing a good insurer can take the worry out of a trip, so shop around for the best deal and do read the small print. Don’t forget regular travel insurance for you and your belongings too.
Travel Photography Masterclass – Subjects
People and Local Culture
When travelling, your senses are heightened in new locations with fresh visual stimulation all around you. People and local customs make great subjects for your shots but you do need to employ some measure of diplomacy when photographing people, as you can easily offend them. Being mindful and gaining consent are top priorities. If people aren’t happy with you taking their picture, then it will show in the final image.
Try to remember that a camera can be quite threatening when pointed at someone, especially as they won’t always know your intentions. If possible, try and engage in some basic conversations with people and appear interested. Sometimes their opening up to you will reveal aspects of their character that can add something to an image you wouldn’t have initially foreseen.
A popular landscape photography technique is to include a prominent subject in the foreground. This adds a point of interest and helps to create a perspective for the scale of the landscape. A wideangle lens is generally best for landscapes, but a telephoto zoom can be good for the details.
When framing your image, try varying the amount of sky in the picture. At halfway up the frame, this can produce a fairly static image, but as you move the horizon above or below this central point, it creates a dynamic to the image, emphasising grandeur and scale.
Some travel photographers when arriving at a location look for the highest vantage point to get an establishing shot over the surrounding area. This can be useful if you are trying to set the scene or tell a story through a sequence of images.
Architecture often forms a key footprint in the history of a location. A common temptation is to stand back as far as possible to get the whole view in but this can sometimes produce fairly uninspiring shots, generally full of people in the foreground wandering about.
If you want the best shot of a building, you may have to wait for the right time of the day to get that shot. Photographing early in the morning or late in the evening will give you a more flattering light to work with as well as helping to avoid the crowds of people that usually gather at tourist spots.
Wildlife and Nature
Indigenous animals form a link to the identity of a place and so make for good subject matter. Photographing animals in their natural environment is obviously best, but this can be time-consuming and expensive on a short visit. One alternative can be the local zoo. This may feel like cheating, but the zoo will be full of all animals native to that country and if you frame the shots fairly tightly and let the background blur out of focus, you should be able to hide the fact that they’re in a zoo.
Close-up shots of local plants can also be an excellent way of documenting a particular area. Macro lenses – or macro features on compact cameras – are ideal here, as are wide maximum apertures, which will throw the background out of focus to a greater degree.
Travel Photography Masterclass – Useful Gear
In addition to your main camera (and perhaps your backup or second camera) there are a number of other equipment essentials that it pays to think about sourcing before you depart. Remember that in some destinations you may find yourself many miles away from anywhere stocking the simplest accessories, such as batteries, never mind more complicated equipment.
Here’s a list of what you should be looking to pack:
While a small, lightweight tripod is the ideal travel companion, a monopod makes a surprisingly useful alternative. They’re easier to carry, quick to set up, and can provide a stable platform for exposures as low as 1/4 second, once you get the hang of holding them steady. A pocket tripod can also more than earn its keep for the little space it takes up.
A compact flashgun can come in very handy as a fill-flash, or for small interiors where there isn’t enough available light. If you get a slave flash (from under £7 for a non-dedicated pocket model), which can be triggered from your camera’s built-in flash, you can hide it (or several) within your scene. Some dedicated flashguns feature a slave mode for TTL off-camera flash.
It’s the usual dilemma – do you pack every bit of kit you own, just in case, or trim it down to the essentials? Let’s assume you already have an 18-55mm or 18-70mm standard lens. That gives you a reasonable degree of wideangle coverage but not much at the telephoto end. Pairing it with something like a 70-200mm or 70-300mm lens will cover that range nicely. If you can get one with Vibration Reduction/Image Stabilisation it will reduce the need to use a tripod.
If you want to travel lighter still, an 18-200mm lens covers the range of both these lenses in a single optic. The Nikon 18-200mm (pictured) achieved a very respectable score when it was tested in WDC, though some of the cheaper ones are not as good optically. This is because the broader the zoom range, the greater their propensity for distortion and image quality issues. Their smaller maximum apertures mean they’ll struggle in lower light levels too, so you’ll need to use a tripod more often.
If you can stand the additional weight (and expense) taking several faster (wider aperture) lenses, or fast zooms, such as a 80-200mm f/2.8 will give you better image quality. You’ll also be able to shoot hand-held in lower light and achieve a shallower depth of field – great for portraits. It may also be tempting to squeeze in a superwide zoom, if you have one, such as a 12-24mm, for those dramatic landscapes.
A portable hard drive provides an ideal solution for downloading the images on your cards for safekeeping. Transferring your photos to a drive each night also avoids having to delete images when you run out of space on your memory cards. Prices start from under £100 for a basic model.
Travel Photography Masterclass – Professional Tips
Travel photographer Andy Joplin spends up to 18 months at a time on the road, photographing in remote locations around the world. Here, Andy suggests a few useful accessories you might want to consider taking.
A lightweight tripod is a good travel photography addition if you can spare the weight and the space. This can double as a handy defence for your equipment should someone take a shine to it.
If your camera can take AA batteries this will avoid you having to carry leads and adaptors. Having enough batteries and memory cards to last a day’s shooting is a must.
Sand, water and humidity are the scourge of a DSLR. A waterproof camera bag is a good investment, preferably one that is comfortable to carry for long periods of time. Avoid one that looks like you are carrying expensive photographic equipment though.
Some basic lens cleaning equipment and sensor cleaners are a good idea and can reduce problems with your equipment in the field.
I’d recommend a good pair of lightweight walking boots. Walking and travelling go hand in hand so take good care of your feet.