8 Essential Tips for Travel Photographers

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8 Essential Tips for Travel Photographers

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#1 Great travel photos are planned

Just think about what you are going to do, understand the scene, watch the light, the movement of people inside the image. When you take your pictures you have to consider all factors: from the time of day and the light, to the emotional preparation of the characters. It is true that luck exists, that someone at some time photographed just that smile, that you can collect stolen photos using a long lens. But few stolen photos have survived to become part of the history of travel photography.

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#2 The hair in your soup: An error for some people is something creative for others

A hair is a hair, but one thing is having it on your head and another quite different story is finding it in your soup. An error for some people is something creative for others.

Some questions customers usually ask me when traveling together are:

  • Is it okay if I use an aperture of f/8?
  • Hey, what is the right speed for this?
  • Does it matter if it comes out fuzzy?

My answer is always the same: It depends on what you want to do and what you want to highlight.

In sports photography you usually want to focus movement, and for this purpose you use high sensitivity (ISO) and high speed (shutter speed); but great photographers – specialists in their field – leave images fuzzy to emphasize movement, and get splendid results.

The important thing is that viewers of your photo understand the way you have used the error: if you intended to show movement, the viewer must understand it that way. Otherwise the result is just a blurred picture.

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#3 Eyes are the magnet of every photo

Look into people’s eyes, make personal contact. Eyes say a lot about people’s emotions, so much so that in many cultures people don’t want to look you in the eyes because they fear that you will be able to guess what they are thinking. Look for the light in the eyes – or total darkness. They are a magnificent photographic story line.

DPS  Eye contact

#4 One good photo a day – nothing else – nothing more

There is no rush. You don’t have to go off shooting like crazy. One photo a day is much more than the greatest photographers achieve when traveling. Don’t rush when shooting the photo. Take your time to take a good photo rather than waiting for luck to achieve what you are not capable of doing calmly.

#5 Forget about the long lenses if you are actually interested in real people on the street

The long lens is the perfect instrument to get away from people, and keep them at a distance. It isn’t the best method to create emotions and capture them in a photo. Get close. Look into people’s eyes. Create an emotion! The vast majority of Magnum’s photographers specializing in people prefer 24mm, 28mm or 35mm lenses.

If you want to grow as a photographer, use prime lenses: they force you to be fully aware of the frame and to take your time. If you are too far away, get closer. If you are too close, move away. I assure you that you will notice a tremendous improvement in your photos. If you don’t own fixed lenses, set your lens to the 35mm position using a band-aid.

#6 Many good pictures are made on your knees

Yes, on your knees. You’ll see how your whole concept of photography changes. I always get irritated by tourists taking pictures standing, from above, of a monk who is sitting on the floor. If you want people to have respect for you, the first thing you have to do is to show respect for others. Get down to their same height.

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#7 Find the best light and walk uphill or look for the worst light

Get up very early or wait for dusk. The best light appears with sunrise and lasts for the next 20 minutes or at nightfall. Walk where nobody else walks. In cities and villages, you will most certainly find more opportunities than most photographers, by going uphill, because most people look for what is easiest and requires less effort.

It always depends on what you want to show. Many great pictures are made at the worst moment: when the sun is at its zenith. This situation is exceptional for emphasizing shadows and highlighting hard heat conditions.

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#8 Don’t act like a pro

Don’t work, just take photos. Many professional photographers who have lost their way in the struggle to create saleable images come to my courses. Try to keep up your freshness. Remember what it was that originally attracted you to photography. Don’t be afraid of taking photos your colleagues don’t like, and especially don’t be afraid of taking photos that don’t sell.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Harry Fisch has photographically documented more than 35 countries. He organizes and leads International Photographic Tours and Workshops in exotic destinations with his company Nomad Photo Expeditions. Winner of the people section 2012 National Geographic world photo contest, and later disqualified, he has also been a finalist in the 2013 Sony World Photo among other international awards. You can see more of his work here.

  • Number one tip. Don’t go to places where the residents openly carry guns.

  • I would add one tip: be stealthy. I try to take the minimum gear with me when travelling, by selecting the gear I need. It goes with the planning tip. I usually travel with a walk around lens, a telephoto and an UWA lens, some filters, and if possible a tripod. But when going to the day’s objective I’m careful not going with the full package but only with what I need. The less the better IMHO 🙂 I’ve found that people are usually not comfortable when you come with your big chunk of gear next to them. And you’ll be less stressed about your precious gear. Everyone will feel better 🙂

  • Harry Fisch

    You are absolutely right , Khürt, I would add: “and if you do so, understand why they carry them and take care”. The tribal people in the picture are Ethiopian Mursi Shepperds. It seems by what you state in your website that you enjoy Ethiiopian Arar cofee :-)! The Mursis, today, are reasonable and calm people. They carry guns mainly as a status symbol and as a hunting weapon. Of course, from time to time they need them for defense against their traditional enemies, the Bume tribe. In any case they are very, very photogenic.. Difficult to resist 🙂

  • Harry Fisch

    Agreed, Pierre.
    My main gear: a Fuji Xpro-1, an XT-1, three primes (short lenses). A Go-Pro. Filters and a reflector. My “just in case” gear: a tripod, A flash and gel filters. I always take everything with me or leave it in the safest place: the car. 🙂

  • I’m with Pierre in carrying the smallest kit you can (in my case 2 mirrorless cameras with one small prime lens each, a wide and a short telephoto), since this will free you from unnecessary troubles (weight, fear of loss and other inconveniences) and will let you concentrate solely in your trip and the pleasure of photographing for fun!

    I visited a very special music festival last July and, taking into account that it happened in a very narrow and dimly lit environment, I chose only one lens (a fast, wide angle prime) and I spent the whole weekend just with that to nice results. See the pictures here:
    http://gonzalobroto.blogspot.com/2014/09/pirenostrum-luthiers-in-xxi-century.html

  • Harry Fisch

    Agreed.
    My main gear: a Fuji Xpro-1, an XT-1, three primes (short lenses). A Go-Pro. Filters and a reflector. My “just in case” gear: a tripod, A flash and gel filters. I always take everything with me or leave it in the safest place: the car. 🙂

  • Harry Fisch

    The tribal people in the picture are Ethiopian Mursi Shepperds. It seems by what you state in your website that you enjoy Ethiiopian Arar cofee :-)! The Mursis, today, are reasonable and calm people. They carry guns mainly as a status symbol and as a hunting weapon. Of course, from time to time they need them for defense against their traditional enemies, the Bume tribe. In any case they are very, very photogenic.. Difficult to resist 🙂

  • Now, I’ll have to do some reading on the Ethiopian Mursi Shepherds.

    I was thinking about Texas and Florida regarding the gun carry. 🙂

  • Harry Fisch

    🙂 Funny enough. That was going to be my argument… But I have enough enemies for the moment being …

  • Fugit185

    “Forget about the long lenses” Don’t agree, in many Asian countries look directly to camera if they see and it is not helping them as continue doing what they were doing (this works in western countries) I have taken street photos from 20m to 320mm lenses, all are different but good

  • Harry Fisch

    🙂 you can make fabolous pictures with long lenses. My point is that with a 320mm it is difficult to engage a conversation or imply emotionally te subject. On top of that a zoom lens makes you more lazy: you do not have to struggle finding the crop… “manually”. The best thing about the rules is the pleasure of braking them…

  • Geoff

    Surely it depends what you’re trying to capture Harry. If you don’t want to ‘engage or imply emotionally’ with the subject – if you looking for unposed, spontaneous images for instance – then you usually require crowds or distance. If your not in London or New York then that often means you rely more on a longer lens to get satisfactory results.

  • Harry Fisch

    Geoff 🙂 Not a single of my pictures has been made in London or New York 🙂 . http://harryfisch.photoshelter.com/portfolio . And I never used a long lens… We then agree: “If you don’t want to engage with the subject..” the long lens is better . You can share an emotion with someone that does not speak your language and does not share your culture. This is what I like of my photo tours.

  • Edmund

    I thought this an excellent article but did not really understand the photos attached to the text. The one of the Buddhist child monks, couldn’t you have got lower?

    The last one of fishermen meaning to illustrate the sun at its zenith is clearly taken at sunset.

    24mm lens for portraits? I think not unless you want distortion, 35mm-50mm fine except for crowd scenes.

    Wholly up with you on some carefully selected primes over “Hey I’m a professional white 20″ massive zoom lens”. If you are a professional fine, it’s your job and you’re in a pit with other pros at a football match, if you want a good candid photo the subject needs to be relaxed not faced with a $15k rig.

    OK with the guns though, in the Yemen they drink similar coffee and everyone carries a gun as a sign of social status, if you don’t have one you have a curved kanja dagger at your waist and if you have neither you are a nobody.

  • Harry Fisch

    Edmund, you are totally right, the pictures are possibly not well chosen for the text. I will try better next time. This one http://harryfisch.photoshelter.com/portfolio#I0000vEPyNNyHZJ8 could be possibly the one to support the “worst” light but please take note that I also stated in this same paragraph “… get up early..”

    🙂 It’s a deal : Next time I will face young monks I will lay down !

    24 mm for portraits is a mess !! Yess ! But… something next to a portrait can, sometimes, work. See picture # 3 (the monks). This was done with the equivalent of a 28mm http://harryfisch.photoshelter.com/portfolio#I0000sef7YCNuc64

    BTW, thanks for your comments 🙂

  • TKTKLSL

    Some of my best shots were the ones thatI took just for the fun of it. Never pass up a chance to get a good photo

  • TKTKLSL

    Been to Texas multi times – never seen anybody carrying guns. It’s not Ferguson Mo

  • Roger

    If you see me carrying my gun in Florida, I’m breaking the law. That’s why it’s called “concealled” carry.

  • Even worse.

  • The first image is very intimidating, but what a great composition. I am glad you’re the one that did the shooting and not your subjects.

  • Harry Fisch

    🙂 They have to look very intimidating : it’s part of their business !! If you want to know how is it once there, have a look at http://vimeo.com/71216513

  • rebeccaaguilar

    Excellent tips! Thanks Harry. I will share your blog. Also love your website. You’ve been to some amazing place. Thanks for taking us along for the ride in photographs. Happy 2016.

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