Nothing sounds as exotic to the mind as travel photography and photography holidays. The term conjures up images of far-flung places, true adventures, and new experiences. Although this may also include visits to areas of the UK that you haven’t visited previously. That being said, thousands of photographers, including professionals take photos whilst travelling and are disappointed with their shots. Some will take a shot without much consideration to what they are actually photographing resulting in a holiday snap! Examples of this are shots with poor composition, poor camera technique too much clutter, poor exposure and out of focus subjects. The way to improve on this is a matter of improving your results step by step. Unfortunately, I have many clients at Imber Court Photo Training who have travelled to exotic locations and returned with photographs that are really just snaps and then decide that they require some sort of travel photography training.
A way of being able to take better photos and not snaps is firstly to ensure you are confident in using the correct camera settings and not just relying on the auto setting to achieve results. With some basic knowledge of shutter speed and aperture effects along with the rules of composition you will start to gain confidence in using your camera. Try to record a story, so images that provide more information about the locations that you visit. These may include an overview of the landscape, the people, interesting details, and scenes that will tell viewers more about your location. Travel images with narrative provide more interest than snaps. In this article I hope to show you some of the ways to achieve this.
Planning your trip wisely
I’m often asked how I go about planning new photographic holidays, personally my research starts way before the actual trips. A search on Google and recommendations of places to visit is often where I start, for UK trips I purchase an Ordnance Survey map of the area I intend to travel to look for locations that appear interesting. Google maps is also worth a look as it often has images of the best locations included. If travelling abroad look for images online along with reviews from other photographers. Look for information on particular events that may offer the chance to photograph the local population and the best time of day and year to visit. If landscapes are your thing, then sunrise and sunset times are going to be important. A local guide for a day may also result in visiting off the track areas for those close-up portraits in the areas villages. I have personally run our India, Spain, Iceland or Scotland Photographic Holidays a number of times now and wouldn’t dream of doing it without our guide. TripAdvisor is a good place to see recommendations for local guides in the area that you plan on visiting, Check the local rules on travel photography, in Thailand a few years ago I was told that to take a photograph of a Buddhist monk was forbidden as it was thought that a photograph would take their spirit away! Things have changed now although it is always good to ask before taking a shot.
What kit to take
It’s important to consider what kit you are going to take with you and how you will carry it. As a minimum I would always recommend that along with your camera body a short zoom lens, something like an 18 – 55 or 24 – 70 along with a telephoto, 55 – 300 of if your trip is specifically wildlife in Africa for example something with a little more focal length, a 100-500 or 100 – 400 telephoto zoom will be more than sufficient. A polarising filter will also help whilst out in the bright sunshine to remove glare. A travel tripod is also something to consider, perhaps something that will fit easily into your suitcase. If its wildlife that you will be concentrating on then a monopod is essential to rest the camera and lens on to avoid camera shake resulting in unsharp images. These can be purchased quite cheaply and really are a must! At least one spare battery is also a must with a couple of local travel adapters for charging. Consider purchasing additional memory cards, especially if you are not in a position to download your shots to a computer. To pack everything in get yourself a decent camera bag/rucksack. I have a Lowpro rucksack that I take which can carry all of my kit along with a small laptop and travel documentation. They are strong, waterproof, and comfortable to carry. Don’t just purchase one online, go to your local camera shop and see what’s available to hold all of your kit. When flying abroad always check weight limits on cabin baggage, I have never had a problem with any airline, if they do weigh your bag just tell them its full of expensive kit and they should accept that its not suitable to go in the hold and be thrown around by baggage handlers!
Learn to use your camera before you go
This is where Imber Court Photo Training comes in, as mentioned previously in this article learn how to use your camera before you go, not when you return home!
Learn how to freeze movement and the advantages of using the available focus modes, this is imperative for those of you going on wildlife holidays whilst a good understanding of how the aperture effects our depth of field (sharp or blurry backgrounds in basic terms) is a real advantage for both landscapes and people photography especially when there is a cluttered background. Learn the best way to capture sunrises and sunsets using manual mode to achieve the correct exposure. Understand the basic rules of composition and then you will know when to break the rules.
Tell a story
As I have said many times, there is nothing worse than wandering around with a camera having no idea of what to photograph. Imagine that your images are for a travel magazine or guidebook for the area you are visiting, yes show the landscapes and the wildlife but look for interesting people, markets are great for this and often offer so many opportunities. Have a conversation with the locals, if they don’t understand you point at your camera and then at them with a smiling face, you will be amazed with the results, always show them the shot on your camera screen. Don’t get upset if they say no, just move on to the next interesting person. Show general street scenes and the restaurants that you visit along with the food. Photograph as much as you can, but remember, don’t rush things take your time, consider camera settings and composition before taking the shot. A few years ago, I was in Key West on the Florida Keys and while my wife was in a shop I was hanging around outside and noticed a really interesting character with a large cardboard sign around his neck stating that he was blind. He was sitting on the pavement on the opposite side of the road selling woven baskets. As I raised my camera to get the shot, he shouted FIVE DOLLARS to me! Suffice to say I didn’t take the shot. Its generally not acceptable to pay to take a photograph especially in locations like India where you will find a hoard of people running after you requesting that you take a shot of them! Perhaps in a market area it might be polite to purchase a couple of apples/oranges from the stall holder and then ask if you can take the shot.
Concentrating on a good narrative is a great way of deciding on which photographs to take. Have fun, wander off the beaten track and above all stay safe!