Over the years I’ve been fortunate to photograph many parts of this world and wanted to share my top tips for taking better travel photos. Travelling is always an amazing experience but photographing our life while experiencing other cultures and countries is a constant source of inspiration for me and I can’t tell you how much it enriches my life and my creativity as a photographer.
If I am travelling for work, all of my professional equipment comes with me but if we’re going on a holiday I prefer to travel light and will bring the absolute minimum that I need. Its because of this need that I have tried to be methodical with my travel photography and I develop a plan before I even jump on the plane. As everyone wants to take better photos of their travel adventures, I thought I’d share some tips with you for you to use in your own travel photography. Its not about the camera you have, but how you see the world and how you choose to capture it.
Depending on the trip, I will firstly choose the medium I want to photograph with. It is usually a choice between my DSLR, Mamiya 645 or 35mm cameras. There are a multitude of reasons why I would choose one medium over the other but generally, if I want access to the photos immediately (often for the blog), I will choose to shoot digitally but with often supplement it with some 35mm film black and whites.
My preferred digital option when travelling is a Canon 5D MIII and a 50mm 1.4 lens as the lens is wide enough for a landscape but is perfect for close up details too. The f/1.4 lens is much lighter than the f/1.2 (a big factor when sightseeing and walking all day) and I don’t need the wider aperture for travel photographs. Where ever you’re going, think of what you’re going to be photographing and bring the gear you will need including your accessories such as batteries, chargers, film, memory cards and a hard drive to download files to as back up if you’re travelling for a while.
Being prepared will help you photograph your journey from start to finish which is always a good way to go. When we travel I have my camera in a large tote bag with my other necessities that I take with me on the airplane or in the car. This means I have a camera at the ready to take a photograph immediately rather than dig around in my camera bag, find a memory card and put on a lens and lose the moment. Whether you’re driving in a car or travelling in a plane, documenting those moments of actual travel will help give your travel story a beginning and an end.
In New Zealand we spent most of our time driving so I photographed moments during that trip that added to the story such as Ben sleeping in the car, a few rest stops as we stretched our legs and lunch breaks and some tourist stops of lakes and rivers. It helps that I have an amazing husband who does most of the driving and will stop at a moments notice for me to take a photograph of something that catches my eye, but its important to have your eyes peeled and your camera ready to take advantage of every moment.
I naturally gravitate towards details as a photographer rather than overall photojournalistic photographs and you can see it a lot in my travel photographs. A cup of coffee in a restaurant. A cluster of palm trees and blue skies. A table of food that represents where you are in the world. A punnet of strawberries that tells you immediately it is summer. It is true that a picture tells a thousand words and when you start to put together your photographs as a collection, these details will help remember your travels and make things a little more interesting when you share them with friends and family or create an album of your travels. Photographing things such as language, currency, decor and of course food are great ways to document a location but it is important to also have context.
Maybe its just me, but I will often photograph our home away from home while we are travelling. We’ve usually gone to a lot of effort in choosing the perfect location for us to stay and I want to remember it just as much as any other part of the holiday. Just taking a little time to photograph some details in your accommodation will always be something you’ll look back fondly on.
This is a huge tip for travel photography as the biggest problem most of us have is having thousands of photographs that we need to wade through when we get home. As beautiful as that sunset is, you really don’t need 20 photos of it. As momentous as the Eiffel Tower is, just a few photographs will do. Taking more photographs will only take up space on your roll of film or your hard drive and at the end of the day create more work for you in having to choose which one of the identical photographs is the best. While you want to always be ready, when photographing your holiday try to be strategic and pause before you take a photograph. Is it a good subject? Does it help tell the story of your holiday? Where is the focus in the image? You can turn your snapshots into photographs with a little forethought and selectiveness and make your life when editing them when you return home much easier. I think this is why I love shooting film, especially black and whites, while travelling as I have a limited number of photographs I can take so I have to slow down and be intentional.
Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone to create moments by stylising your surrounding environment. I’ve become unapologetic now in moving things to get a better photograph as a wedding photographer and this has also come into my travel photography. If you’re photographing a meal, move the cutlery or napkins or drinks to compose a more appealing photograph. So long as you put things back where they belong or ask permission if need be, most people don’t have a problem with you doing this. Likewise, if the photograph just isn’t doing it for you, move your feet to find another angle or perspective and look up and down rather than just straight ahead. You might just find a new perspective that is even better.
Its a pretty depressing moment when you look back on years of photographs and realise that there are less than a handful with you – the photographer. I know its not always something we, as women want, but more than that I want to look back on our travels and not just say I was there, but to show I was there. We started a tradition after our first international holiday to take a group portrait at some stage on our trip where I’d set up the camera on top of something (usually the car) and use a self-timer for a quick portrait. I now love these photos of us from each trip and I treasure them so much. I’ve also started handing the camera over to someone else travelling with me, to take a few photos of me. Nothing fancy but something in situ like walking on the beach or around a museum. Something just for me.
I hope these tips help you in your own travel photography but if you have any questions or tips of your own, I’d love to hear from you.