Everything You Need to Know About Travel Photography

Travel photography is inspirational and exciting by its very nature. The prime goal of travel photography is satisfaction and enjoyment one can get out of it.

For any worthwhile photography, a deliberate and conscious choice is a must. This choice can be of the right film, right shutter speed, right depth of field, right lighting and right point of view. To click a memorable picture, all these small factors should also be ‘right’.

Everything You Need to Know About Travel Photography

A good travel photograph should literally be a picture (pun incidental) of ‘total simplicity and integrity’. Contrived images should be avoided. It takes no time to discover the cooking up that has gone into some pictures.

Light and its quality often make or mar a picture. Its effect on the subject should be studied carefully through the viewfinder and if it is possible to wait for better light, it ought to be done. But as on conducted holidays and tours which have tight time schedule, very often it is not possible.

instantShift - Taj Mahal in India

Most sophisticated cameras will produce perfect technical pictures but it is the eyes of the photographer which create the ‘real’ pictures. Taj Mahal, one of the most photographed monuments in the world, is clicked by hundreds of curious tourists but keen travel photographers always like to explore the monument before actually clicking away. This is essential if the goal is to return with a collection of artistic and technically good pictures.

Even if the photos we take on holiday do not turn out as vibrant as the scenes we remember, the digital age allows us to restore that vibrancy thanks to various image enhancements.

Here are few things that might help you to get the best out of your camera while on travel.

Equipments

Camera

A 35 mm camera is by far the most practical one to use in travel photography. It is light to carry and several lenses can be accommodated in a single camera bag. Most of the cameras are products of sophisticated engineering with superb optics and electronics. Most importantly, result of a 35 mm camera is quite acceptable due to ever-increasing better quality films accompanied by constantly improving printing technologies.

instantShift - Digital Camera for Travel Photography

For technically better pictures, there is no substitute for medium format and large format cameras but due to difficulties of weight and slow operation speed, they are used in special circumstances only.

In the 35 mm category also the basic choice is between SLR and rangefinders. Both have their pros and cons, but the winner by far is a good SLR. SLR cameras are becoming more and more affordable and their quality is also improving due to intense competition among manufacturers. With automation in operation taking over manual modes, the process of taking technically good photographers is also becoming easier. Automatic exposure helps a travel photographer to quickly shoot a scene without needing to “fumble with watching needles, lights, etc.”

It is advisable to make the right choice of a camera system because lenses are not interchangeable between camera systems. As one’s interest increases, additions can be made to the collection to enable use of specialized lenses.

On a personal note, I have been using Nikons for the last 30 years and have found them rugged and dependable and their optics is of a very high quality. But that does not mean I could not have taken the same pictures with any other brand of equipment. Comfort and convenience in day-to-day use is also an important factor. When shopping for equipment, it is advisable to consult other photographers and explore their reasons for their choices.

Lenses

instantShift - Digital Camera for Travel Photography

My choice of lenses for travel has been affixed one and I seldom need to rethink. It is as follows:

  • One wide-angle 20 mm
  • One zoom 24 to 120 mm
  • One zoom 75-300 mm

Zoom lenses have 2 distinct advantages: they come with a variety of focal lengths and compositions become simple. Standing at one place, one can compose exactly what one wants and crop out what is not needed.

Use of wide-angle lenses becomes very essential as they can induct far more into a picture. However, the linear distortion (convergence of lines) they cause is a thing that has to be endured. Canon and Nikon have produced ‘perspective correction’ lenses, also called PC lenses, which help resolve this problem in architectural photography. But they are very expensive. Moderate wide-angle lenses (between 24 to 35 mm) are good for sceneries and have a very good depth of field for image sharpness. Super wide-angle (below 24 mm) lenses create very dramatic images and must be used rather sparingly. Their bizarre results can either be very interesting or downright boring!

Before undertaking a trip, it is of vital importance to take some time to fully understand the equipment and give it a try. This removes many moments of uncertainly!
One can take care of the equipment in 2 ways, viz. carry them in a good camera bag for protection and never leave it unattended, inviting thieves in the process.

Films

For a person wanting only a family record, color prints are the topmost priority. For a person interested in serious travel photography, slide films are more appropriate because slides are preferred for printing. In my own case I shoot both slides as well as negatives because slides get published and negatives are required for exhibitions and prints.

If one has a special weakness for black-and-white, a separate body would be needed for it. A word of caution: very few laboratories are now doing black-and-white processing and one has to be careful before going for black-and-white.

As far as possible, it is better to stick to one brand of film as this is bound to give some kind of assurance as to what the final result will look like. In India, now we have a choice between Kodak and Fuji in slide films.

Accessories

instantShift - Accessories (flashgun, tripod) for Travel Photography

Flashgun is the most important accessory for travel photography. And nowadays there is a built-in flashgun in many modern cameras. A small flashgun in travel photography is a must, if the camera is without built-in flash because a flash is a must to light up the interiors of a place or a temple where the existing light is poor.

Another important accessory is a small tripod. A tripod will help in two ways. Firstly, when it is necessary to use a small aperture and long exposure, a tripod prevents any shaking. Secondly, a tripod gives a better chance of composing the pictures which is not possible in hand-held situations.

Care of the Equipment

Due to the inherent dangers involved in travel photography, care of equipment becomes vital. In air travel, the films should be protected from X-ray machines and hence kept in a polythene bag and handed over personally for inspection.

It is good idea to have one film of the batch test-processed before going on a long trip. This not only ensures the quality of the film but also checks the satisfactory functioning of the cameras and the lenses. Fresh batteries should be installed on every new trip undertaken.

Where dust and moisture are likely, lenses and bodies should be kept in polythene bags or pouches and secured with a rubber band.

A small screw-driver is handy for tightening small screws which might become loose due to vibrations. A small piece of chamois cloth and a brush should be employed to clean up the equipment daily, at the end of the day. Equipment should be insured so that, God forbid, in case of a mishap, there is an insurance to fall back on.

People – Numero Uno Interest

It is indeed a fact that people are the number one attraction in travel photography and yet they are difficult subject to tackle. It is easier to photograph buildings, general scenes and other things one may encounter during a journey, but photographing people is difficult. Cooperation of people whose pictures we wish to take is a must to make the whole experience a fun. Ice has to be broken as most people are a bit conscious and thus, reluctant to be photographed. If this barrier of consciousness can be removed, 80% of the battle is won.

One must realize that at the bottom of the heart, people do like getting photographed. It is always worthwhile to try and build a rapport with the people and see the amazing cooperation one can get. A few flattering words in appreciation of their beauty or clothes can also do the trick. The subject here should be approached in a very gentle and cautious manner. If language is a barrier, a request by way of a smile can work. In certain cases if it is affirm ‘no’, then it is advisable to take it as a ‘no’ and not persist any further. If the people are apprehensive about your intentions, then it is better to give a sincere reply and they will readily cooperate.

There are two possibilities as far as lenses are concerned. If people are a part of your total picture, then any focal length in a wide-angle section would be suitable (below 50 mm). Where only faces are necessary, then it should be at least 85 mm. an 80 to 200 mm zoom lens is quite ideal for people’s shots. Earlier I used a f-4.5 lens but now I am more fond of f-2.8 and 80 to 200 zoom as it works in available light better and is auto focus also.

Sometime people expect a copy of the photograph. In such cases, we should take down the names and addresses and must fulfill our promise. We can be sure to have a great friend there to welcome us in case we visit the place again. On countless occasions I have kept my word and it has been appreciated.

Advance Information

Before actually visiting a place it is good idea to gather some information about it from books, magazines or brochures. Today it is possible to get almost all the information on the internet. Many travel-websites put up abundant pictures of the destinations. CNN even forecasts the weather four days in advance, with all details like temperatures, humidity and likelihood of rain etc. These details can forewarn us as to what to expect. Services of Internet are a must for any serious travel photographer.

On location

Before the days of the digital camera, on returning from holiday we would put our films in for processing, wait at least a few days, and then our eager anticipation would turn to disappointment as we saw the results of our endeavors. However, with image manipulation software it is easy to fix problems in digital images.

Many graphics programs have an “Enhance Photo” facility, which applies a series of enhancement operations with one click in Paint Shop Pro this is called “One Step Photo fix”; In Photoshop Elements, under the “Enhance” menu, simply click on “Quick Fix”! If the result does not produce the desired effect, then try the manual approach by using Brightness/Contrast, then Saturation and finally color adjustment. All three of these operations allow you to tinker with the settings, so it is a good idea to play around with them (using a spare copy and not the original!); until you feel you have achieved the right combination. When you are happy with the result, you can use the sharpen tool to add crispness to your image.

On reflection

One of the big problems with taking photographs of holiday landscapes is that the difference in tight levels between the sky and the ground can cause all sorts of problems. The main issue is that you can lose the blues from the sky, making the picture appear very white and bland.

Shooting over water can exacerbate this problem, due to the reflections. Many digital cameras have an in-built bias towards the bottom of the picture to offset the effect of the sky. As soon as you get bright reflections off the water, however, the offset compensation is lost One way around this is to take a series of photos at different aperture settings (the size that the lens opens to). Later on, when you get home and download your pictures onto your computer, you can then use your graphics package to cut the best sky out of one image and put it over the best ground from another.

There are also a vast number of filters you can buy to help you take pictures without bleached sky or loss of detail. Some are more useful than others. Polarizers, for instance, used to deepen blue skies in landscape photographs. They can work wonders in reducing reflections when shooting by water or glass at an angle. Neutral density filters are like sunglasses for your camera. The amount of light allowed in is reduced but without changing the color.

Some useful tips for Travel Photography

  • Carry a camera all the time for you can never tell when the photo opportunity may crop up all of a sudden. Keep the camera handy. A scene will never be the same again when you return armed with a camera.
  • Carefully study the pictures of the chosen destination published earlier. Travelers with a sharp eye and keen imagination can select angles with better prospects.
  • While it may be necessary to consider the panoramic and overall shots, it also becomes very rewarding to study minute and small sections of a picture which may be quite compelling as a story-telling element. Microscopic details of a sculpture or details of an old monument may also be worthwhile.
  • Liberal sprinkling of people’s photographs is a must. Be quick in snapping people, before the smile grows wooden! Stiff and self-conscious expressions kill human pictures.
  • In a new place there may be several subjects worth photographing. Here a deliberate choice has to be made for the simple reason that all cannot be photographed. Go after what appeals to you the most.
  • Keep the cameras loaded, your eyes wide open and anticipate when the photo opportunities may crop up.
  • After carefully selecting what equipment to carry, make a check-list for future reference. The kit should not be overburdened and yet be prepared to meet picture possibilities. What to take along and what to leave behind should all be listed out.
  • All equipment should be given a thorough trial run to be sure it works and make its use familiar just as winding a wristwatch. It anything is out of order, it should be discovered in advance.
  • Always carry a few extra film rolls than your expectations. There is no frustration worse than running out of a film amidst picture possibilities.
  • It is not necessary only to shoot after reaching a destination. Pictures are possible during your journey, be it in a car, train or plane.
  • Like human subjects, places can also have unpredictable moods. It is thus a good idea to take pictures of the same subject at different times and see the remarkable difference. The time of the day and the different lights make an interesting comparative study.
  • Bad weather is a good friend in travel photography. It often imparts a mood – so valuable for an attractive image. Snow, rain and fog should not keep a camera-buff locked indoors. Best pictures come with them.

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6 Comments

  1. Great tips for my next vacation. Your descriptions are inspiring and it makes me wish that I had more time (and patience) to shoot more often!

  2. As a personal experience – I would say a Tripod is a must. Carrying 3 Lenses is a pain especially when you want to enjoy your travel as well plus a fear of breaking them or supporting the heavy carry case.

    I prefer to carry a 18-200mm and a 50mm 1.4G which are sufficient for my choices of Scenes, Abstracts and Portraiture shots. Quality sure is a compromise with 18-200 but its totally cool considering there is no pain carrying it :)

  3. Hi Narendra! Great article. Now I came to understand some important points regarding travel photography by reading this post. Thanks for sharing.

  4. i just bought Nikon S8200, amazing basic professional, i love to read more tips … thanks

  5. I agree with the most points on this article. Howerer, I think I focus on lenses and camera. :)

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