Hello and welcome to our Photography Guide Part II. In our Travel Photography Part I you learned all about the preparation, gained a feeling about what makes the Travel Photography so special and what to do or not to do when you are on location. The Tips 1 – 6 helped you understanding the basic rules.
Today we want to talk about different techniques on different sections of Travel Photography and general thoughts about this topic. So why we are so excited about making pictures while discover new destinations? Because we want to communicate what makes a place truly special. We want to fix things which suprise, intrigue, excite and inspire. Good travel photography doesn’t just confirm what we already know about a place, rather it challenges our preconceptions, making us question what we think we know.
Technique and Approach
Tip #7 – People
First off, as with any genre of photography, shoot in RAW format if your camera will permit it. There’s little point in taking great travel photos if they are just low-quality JPEGs. With RAW you can have JPEGs any time you want. But you’ve also got the higher resolution files too in case you should ever need them.
Shooting people means meeting people. Or at least having some kind of rapport with them, no matter how fleeting. Yes, you might be able to get away with shooting in a more fly-on-the-wall documentary style too. But unless you have some kind of “in” to your host country, shooting documentary photos on the streets will mean you only get images of pubic life, not more intimate and surprising scenes from within the confines of peoples’ homes, workplaces and sites of worship.
Having said this, if street life is your thing, be sure to research potentially interesting areas of each major city you visit: in some countries a lot of life is lived out in the open and visiting the right neighborhood can produce plenty of great material. Also check for things like local festivals, holidays and major events, and plan your visit to coincide.
Tip #8 – Natural Landscapes
If you’re into shooting landscapes, it can seem difficult to find truly unique and little-known subjects that are also genuinely stunning. But you can, and will, if you make a little effort to venture beyond the standard tourist spots.
You might also want to look into apps such as the Photographer’s Ephemeris or Sun Seeker to help you plan your landscape shots. These are handy tools that will help you to arrive at a chosen location at precisely the right time to catch the sunrise, sunset and the golden hours.
Tip #9 – Cities and Architecture
Buildings make great travel photography subjects. Just seeing a certain style of architecture can immediately transport a viewer to that place. Look for distinctive buildings that have something to “say” about the location. Sometimes it’s all about the contrast between different kinds of building: old and new; tall and small.
Cities can be great to shoot at night, or just after sundown when the electric lights have come on but there’s still a lingering trace of daylight in the sky. Try to get all vertical and horizontal lines nicely parallel to the side of the frame when shooting buildings (this isn’t always possible without specialized equipment though).
Tip #10 – Sunsets
Sunsets are nice. Everyone likes sunsets.
Everyone takes pictures of sunsets too. Do we need any more pictures of sunsets? What makes yours different? Maybe just put the camera down and enjoy the sunset.
Tip #11 – Instagram Trends
Want to be the next Instagram travel photography “influencer”? This means becoming an instantly recognizable “brand”. In the same way that all the world’s biggest companies tend to provide one type of product or service that everyone knows them for, you’ll need to hit upon an idea that will keep people coming back to you, certain that you won’t disappoint.
Here the product is your photography. Just as there are better burgers to be had elsewhere than McDonalds, you don’t need to be the most technically accomplished photographer in order to become an Instagram star. What you need is an idea. A fun, simple idea that you can repeat in every location you visit.
There’s nothing particularly complicated about the #FollowMeTo, #LensBetweenUs or #GirlEatWorld photographs. And the heavy-handed use of filters on some of them wont be to everyone’s tastes. But there’s no denying that these Instagrammers hit upon great ideas. You’ll need one too if you want to achieve the same degree of social media success.
Here are some Inspirations for Instagram Trends:
The #FollowMeTo Pose
The #GirlEatWorld Trend
The #LensBetweenUs Style
And our Instagram Photography Accounts we follow!
General Travel Photography Tips
Tip #12 – Go Solo
You might not want to hear this, but if you really want to excel at travel photography, you should probably travel alone. Or with just one other person, if you really must.
As a solo traveller you are more approachable, less threatening. This makes it much easier to meet people. Meeting people will open doors to exciting places, and exciting photo opportunities. Even traveling as a couple (romantic or otherwise) will make you a little less approachable. Meanwhile, in a group you’ll find it almost impossible to get access to anything but the most superficial and stereotypical views of a destination. Travel photography is sometimes a lonely profession.
Tip #13 – Get a Fixer
Whether traveling alone or with a friend/partner, it can help massively if you have access to someone with insider knowledge of the location: a “fixer” in journalism-speak. If you already have a local friend, great, they’ll likely be able to provide all the help and insider info you need.
If not, then you should seek out someone who can assist you. This could be a professional guide, or a friendly and helpful taxi driver (maybe offer to pay a daily rate if they’ll take you around). Even a bored hotel receptionist with plenty of time on their hands could be a wealth of local info.
Tip #14 – Be Open
Naturally, it’s always going to be easier to enlist the help of others if you are friendly and outgoing yourself. Even if it’s the thousandth time today that you’ve been offered a taxi/rikshaw/tuk-tuk/massage/ping-pong-ball-show, keep smiling.
Learn as many words of the local language as you possibly can. Expecting people to speak your language in their country will not win you many friends. “Your language” means English, even if it’s not actually your mother tongue, as in many parts of the world it’s assumed that all foreigners are English speakers.
Even just a few basic words in the local language, such as hello, please, and thank you will go a long way. Most people are flattered when a foreigner takes sufficient interest in their culture to ask intelligent questions about it, so requesting the help of a local to teach you how to say a more difficult phrase in the language (“Hi, I’m a photographer, can I take your picture?”) can be a great way of getting to know people.
And once you know people a little, they are usually very happy for you to take their photo.
So, yes, smile, and talk to people.
Tip #15 – Choose Your Destinations Carefully
Tourism brings money. But it often also has many much less agreeable consequences for local people. People who may or may not actually see very much of the extra money that tourism injects into their local economy.
In hugely popular tourist destinations, you shouldn’t be too surprised if you discover that local people aren’t very friendly, and have precisely zero interest in either you or your photography.
Think about it though: imagine that you’re just trying to earn a basic living, leading a normal life, when suddenly you find your neighborhood overrun by a lot of people – many of whom are also rude, culturally ignorant, and already drunk by midday – then you’d likely have little time for foreign photographers either.
Conversely, in areas that see little tourism, the inhabitants are usually very curious about foreigners: a category of person they may have only ever seen in movies or on the news. Clearly, this situation is going to work out better from everyone’s point of view.
Tip #16 – Become Invisible
You’re a Traveler, right? Not a tourist.
Wrong. As far as the locals are concerned, there’s little difference between you – the intrepid travel photography adventurer – and some loudmouth dude in a hawaiian shirt who has barely ventured further than the poolside bar the entire week. Effectively, you’re a tourist anywhere that you don’t speak the language or permanently live. Perhaps even if you do speak the language and live there. Never forget this.
Having said that, getting good photos often requires becoming as invisible as you possibly can. This means behaving like the locals do, which will not necessarily be how you behave at home. Sure, in some places, you may be the first outsider anyone’s seen in living memory, so expect to be mobbed by the entire village school in friendly excitement. This may produce many great shots. But generally, the more you can blend in and remain in the background, the more “undisturbed” daily life you will be able to witness.
Tip #17 – Wake Early
Are you on vacation? Or a hardworking travel photographer? There’s no reason why you can’t do both of course, but if you want to improve your travel photography skills, then you’ll need to dedicate at least part of the trip to doing it seriously. This means getting out of bed when the light is good and few other travelers are around.
Perhaps you’re not much of a morning person? Get up anyway, spend an hour or two shooting, and then go back to bed. Midday light is flat and boring anyway, better to take a siesta.
Tip #18 – Get Lost
Pick a direction and just walk. Lose yourself. Make sure you have the name and address of your hotel in the local language though (i.e. pick up a business card from reception). This way if you really get lost you can just grab a cab and head back without a problem.
Check first with locals, though, to make sure that you’re not about to wonder off in the direction of a notoriously sketchy neighborhood.
Tip #19 – Take Your Time and be prepared
Good things come to those who wait. Good travel photographs often come to those who wait all day. Just make sure there’s a shady tree nearby.
Have your camera ready to hand at all times. Always keep one eye on the light: take meter readings frequently and adjust your camera settings when necessary. This way, when a photo opportunity presents itself, click: it’s yours!
Tip #20 – Be sensitive
Don’t flash conspicuous bling (i.e. cameras) in a place where the cost of a single lens might be equal to several months’ wages for the lowest paid members of society.
If you’re from a wealthy, industrialized nation and traveling in the “developing” world, the average person is going to assume that you are filthy rich, even if this is very far from the case. Many people will be curious about your (perceived, or at least relative) wealth, and be on the lookout for exciting signs of these expected riches. Cover your cameras in gaffer-tape, taking particular care to hide the Nikon, Canon, Leica or whatever logo. Make it look beat up, ugly, and, above all, totally worthless. This way you’ll likely find that inquisitive eyes (and, most importantly, hands) soon lose interest.
Put all this ugly gear into an equally ugly bag. Not some high-tech pro camera bag with all the bells and whistles. Instead, line a sturdy but nondescript shoulder bag or rucksack with foam and fill it with all the padded dividers out of your regular camera bag. This way people will more likely expect you to pull out your lunch than some state-of-the-art photography gear.
Tip #21 – Be Aware and be sure
This bag stays with you at all times. Never let yourself be persuaded to part with it under any circumstances. It does not travel in the hold of a plane as checked baggage, only as carry on. It does not sit on luggage racks at the far end of a train carriage. It does not go in a rear locker or on the roof of an intercity bus. If it absolutely must be stored down by your feet when using public transport, then pay special attention that no one crawls through under the seat from behind and helps themselves to its contents while you’re distracted.
However, even these precautions cannot guarantee that you will not be the victim of theft. Get good camera insurance and regularly back-up your RAW files, both to external drives (preferably carried separately from your computer) and to the cloud.
Let’s summarise the Travel Photography Guide
Now enjoy yourself
- Shoot in RAW
- Meet the people on local Festivals, Holidays and Events
- Try to show contrasts (especially in Architecture Photography)
- The time of day is important
- You need a funny, simple Style, which is stringent in any locations
- Travel Photography is a lonely profession
- Grab a Fixer with knowledge of the Location
- Learn a little bit of the local Language
- Be patient
- While Traveling always adjust your settings constantly
Walking around in a paranoid funk thinking every local is out to fleece you for your precious camera gear is not going to result in too much quality travel photography. Nor, for that matter, in much quality travel. Assuming you even dare take the camera out of its case, you’ll be so defensive and strung-out that most potential subjects will steer well clear of you anyway.
Relax, it’s just a bunch of molded-plastic and microchips. Now get out there and start shooting!
By the way: When you have your portfolio full of beautiful and breathtaking Photos – Show them to the World!!! Do you want to get your Pictures noticed? My simple Tips for getting more Followers and Likes will give you the Attention you deserve.
All the Best,
Nadja from MyPostcard.