This Reference Guide to Travel Photography is a live document based on my and all the contributors experiences. It will be updated from time to time with more tips from on our travel photography practice, from episodes and encounters; we really hope you can be part of this document as well.
Send us your feedback! Anything that we have missed? Anything that needs to be better explained? Anything you would like covered? Any suggestion?
Let’s have a start with the preparation phase
Bang Bao fishing village, Koh Chang, Thailand (from the Top 6 sites to take a picture in Koh Chang)
Reference guide to travel photography – BEFORE YOU LEAVE
Even before you start your trip there are so many things you can do to get ready. You will better enjoy your photography and travel experience
Plan your trip and your travel experience
Check the full Travel photography guide plan on this website for a nice and easy to-do list. Here are two easy tools that may help your trip before even been on site:
- Google map builder: do a virtual location scouting and save your sites on a map
- Sunset/sunshine planner: although we can’t plan when the sunset/sunrise will arrive, we can still check on Suncalc what are the best sites for sunrise or sunset
Do some research on the photo available on line to see the best spots. Add them to your map. Check the sun and here you go with a plan. You spend 3-4 hours before your trip and you will be fully rewarded once on site
Flying with your photography kit
Nowadays most of the airline allow 8-10kg carry on luggage which is, I know, nothing. I usually take a laptop and my photo gear. That is usually over the 10kg. I have reduced my essential kit to my laptop, camera and two lenses. All charges in the other bag. If you are still over. Here is a little trick. Put something in the pocket of you jacket. They will check the weight of the carry on luggage at the check-in. After that the gear can go back to the bag 😉
Rucksack or roller bag
Roller back is great when you move at the airport and from/to the hotel. They are a real pain in any other cases. Walking in the street of Athens can be a real nightmare where the pavement is irregular, if existing. And how many places like Athens in the world? And how many cities worst than Athens? A lot!
Should I join an organised group
If the group is a photography group, than it’s perfect. Otherwise it will be impossible to organise your photography as you would like it. There are too many people around and, even worst, a schedule to stick with. You can’t just wait that 20 minutes more for the golden hour. The guide will implore you to leave. Again take it easy, if you decide to go with a group, it is absolutely fine, just do not expect that everybody else will wait for you and your photography
Learn few words before leaving
Few words can take you a long way with the locals. How much you appreciate that a foreigner is able to communicate with you when you are in your home country. That works the other way around as well. It is not like English should be spoken by everybody. English is just one of the many languages in the world. What are the main words:
- thank you, many thanks
- where is (and be ready with an address/map to show) – that works very well when you look for a place
- Yes, No
- chicken, fish, vegetable, meat
- beautiful eyes/face (very useful for portarait) and you show your camera
- Hello, good day/morning/afternoon/night and good bye
This is really a basic vocabulary you can build and use during your trip
Be ready for the bad time
Unfortunately things may go wrong and insurances may help. The essential kit is
- travel insurance
- camera insurance
Anything else is a bonus. If travelling alone, take always with you a business card of the hotel or/and a number of a family member that can be contacted in case
What lens for my travel photography
This is a 1 million dollar question without an answer. You will have to give up something whatever choice you make. If you take all the lenses you have at home you will give up in manoeuvrability as you will have to carry lots of equipment, and pay attention to it.
The alternative is a superzoom lens, say 18-200, but the photo quality will not be as great
My choice is for two lenses, a wide angle (12-24) and my beloved zoom lens (24-120). I would use the wide angle for interiors and interesting/usual photos. Everything else is the 24-120
Centre of town, Leiden, The Netherlands (photo taken in the blue hours – read more below)
When you are on the road
Finally we are on the road, it’s time for our so long planned photography trip. There are more things to take in consideration
Travel with somebody else
Travelling alone, especially in some areas of the planet may be dangerous. Beside, your mate can help you during your photography, if she/he feels like. He/she may even help you transporting your gear, although this may be asking too much LOL
Unfortunately, by personal experience and talking with many other photographers, if your mate/partner is not interested in photography, he/she will get quite bored and he/she will want to move on. Luckily in these days there is Instagram and Facebook.
I noticed that my partner has actually started having an interest in photography, just because she can shoot, apply few filters, add a comment and publish.
It is a pretty immediate action which is taking millions of people back into photography. There are many photographers that may argue that Instagram is not photography as such. I don’t want to enter in this discussion now. I believe anyway that Instagram was and is able to open up the creativity side of many people.
Will these people stay in Instagram or move to a different kind of art/photography? Hard to say, only time will tell
Take it easy
It is not about quantity, it is about quality. Do not be stressed with a monstrous plan to visit Australia in 1 week. Sydney 2 days, Melbourne 2 days, the Great Ocean Road 1 day and 2 days in the Great Barrier Reef ….in the rainy season.
Yes you have been in Australia, but really you have seen just the cities, and although the most liveable cities in the world, well, actually you are not going to live there. The best of Australia is the nature and the landscape around and far away from the cities.
This is not just about Australia. What about the Europe in a week trip. I would not be able to even plan 2 weeks in France LOL.
At the end it is more the time spent on the car or at the airport lounge that actually visiting and photographing a place.
Pace yourself and plan well in advance your photos. It’s hard to come back from a trip with lots of beautiful photos but you can definitely come back with few outstanding and fantastic ones. quality over quantity. When shooting just think you are still using a film, and paying for every single photo you will develop 😉
Look around you
During the planning phase you built your photography list of places to visit, based also on photos you saw on Flickr or 500px. Fantastic. However look around you, there is always space for a new corner, a new interpretation, a new site to take the inspiration from
Temple of Hadrian, Rome, Italy (think the same photo with or without bicycle, look around you)
You can’t take masterpieces every day
I would love to but it is a matter of fact that it is almost impossible to make a great memorable photo every single day. It’s the nature of photography. A great image comes from a combination of factor and not every day the stars align. So take it easy, it’s not you, it’s just the way it is.
You are on vacation after all, relax. In most of the cases an outstanding photo takes days, with sites re-visits for the best weather condition.
Travel photography is not just about landscaping. It’s also about documenting the people in the area you are visiting. Every region, country, city has the own typical faces that represent the place you are having your trip.
Portraits may be not as easy as landscape photography where you manage your time and you don’t usually need to ask anybody’s permission. Before making a portrait it is suggested to ask permission, especially if children are in the image.
But before even asking the permission, stop, have a chat, start a conversation. You never know what it may lead to.
My experience is that I come out from a portrait not only with a photo but with a story.
Add a person to your photo
A landscape photo is about, well, about the landscape of course, about the scene that you have in front of you.
How many times have you read that you should not include people in your landscape photography?
Probably many! There are however few exceptions. First and foremost when you need to give a sense of scale to your photo.
I love vast landscapes as a desert, a mountain chain or a big rock, a cliff but the photo will never give justice to the size….unless you have a person in it
A person can add romanticism to your photo as well as happiness to balance your landscape
Smile, smile and smile again
I woke up at 4am, I went for few photos at sunset at 7am, up the mountain, back at the hotel. Yes very tired but I would never stop smiling to anybody, even the usual street touter that in some countries may never stop. It’s all good we are on holiday.
The smile takes you a long way. Enjoy yourself and make fun of yourself
Golden hours, Sunset/sunrise, blue hours
Yes, these are the hours when you will get the best results:
- Blue hours (dawn and dusk): this is about 1-2 hours before sunrise and for one/two hours after sunset. Which one is better? Usually the dawn because you will have more freedom, less people around and the wind tends to be low. You will get a nice intense blue in the sky and the sea, if you are on the coast
- Sunrise/Sunset: the most popular time of the day for photography, with a nice warm light
- Golden hours: this is about 1 hours after sunrise and for one hours before sunset. In this case I like to have the sun on the side more than in front of me. i love to have the sun stripes from the side.
Be creative with your photos
Try new photographic technique during your trip. Shooting moving objects for example is a great way to give an idea of movement. Spanning is another way. Learn this technique on the tutorial Shooting moving objects – Panning.
Commuting at the fishing village, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
Photography during the day
Yes it is not the best time of the day. However you can still plan this time for many things :
- rest because you woke up so early for the sunrise or the blue hour
- interior photography, churches and amazing buildings around you
- street photography in b&w. Colours can also be used but the end image would look more flat
- street markets
- usual photography but avoid composition with sun and shadow in the same image otherwise you will have to give up either one or the other
- location scouting (take your camera with you, you can check the composition and ….you never know what can happen)
Print and leave copy
That makes miracles in places where you are far away from civilisation. The drawback is that you need to carry one of this small portable printing gear with you. Nowadays they are the size of 3.5″ hard dish, not too bad.
It’s all about leaving a recollection to the locals, it does not happen every day and you will make the life easier to the next photographer, although you are raising the local expectations LOL
Pay or not to pay
You see somebody’s famous photo and you ask yourself, wow, how did he/she make that photo with the subjects just there in the right moment? Well, in travel photography, sometime you pay for somebody to stay there at the right time, as easy as that. If you do not like that, no worries, move on.
Paying does not always mean giving cash, although sometime locals do ask that, it may mean also buying drinks, food or other things to break the ice, have a chat and most probably taking a photo.
Do not stop with your raw images. Download them on your PC and start the post production phase, cropping, working on the shadows and the sky, adding brightness and contrast where needed, correcting the white balance.
If you shoot in JPG most of the post-production is executed inside your camera. Do not leave to your camera the choice, you are the photographer.
Rule of thumb: do not go over the top. If you are asking yourself if you are pushing too much the saturation treatment, well, probably you are already.
Use a local guide
It may be expensive as a start but it pays back with the results. If you are visiting a 3rd world countries, you will end up paying a very small amount of money and he/she will be your PR for you, beside taking you to the asked sites.
He/she can organise the food for you, the transportation and much more. He/she can even introduce you to the family, what a great way to to do some more portraits LOL
Create your story
If the photos are connected to a story they will have a better dimension. You want to add the emotional factor to your photos. That is the third dimension. This explain as well why travel photography is not just landscaping.
It’s about coming back from a trip with a project, a story, a visual story, moments of life with a reason to be connected
Backup, backup, backup and once again backup
The most frustrating thing in photography? Loosing a photography trip because you forgot to make a copy. I would smash my….well, doesn’t matter what.
I usually shoot on two cards at the same time (The Nikon D600 has this feature). Once back in the hotel I download the images on the laptop and I start my usual tagging/post-production process. In the night I update my external HD with a backup of the last photo. I delete the photos from the memory cards only when I do not have any more space.
In this way I have usually 3 copies with me. If there is a good internet connection I upload them on my virtual drive. That is the fourth copy
Bare Island, Sydney, Australia (off the typical Sydney photographic sites)
Some more tips for small details that can be useful long term
Photography and airports
Yes, usually you can make photos inside the airports. Most probably you will not be able to use your tripod and that’s why I would highly suggest to take always with you a small, strong, tripod, the ones about 20-30cm high. That will work fine in most of the places where tripods are not allowed
The airport photos are quite interesting and can be used when you try to document a story that goes through different location. Beside we have usually so much time at the airports
Although I never did videos, I have been starting doing that for few months now. Do not think featured movies. Just some few seconds here and there. Mostly when we move from place to place, just to have a bit more of documentation on the trip.
I use these cuts as b-roll shots for the trip photo-videos. It does not take too long and they give a nice sense of story. They do not need to be perfect and usually they do not need audio as there will be music in the video
We talked about the smile factor. This is more about the social website as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Tumblr. Keep posting on them. If people follow you and/or your travel blog they will be delighted to live the trip with you.
It is true, Internet may not be available every day but you still have tools as PostCron where you can plan all your posts well in advance.