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You’ve probably witnessed the ‘tour bus photo stop’ before. It goes something like this:
- the bus pulls up at the ‘scenic lookout’
- 40 tourists pile out of the bus
- they proceed to rush to the fence separating them from the castle/ruin/coastline/authentic indigenous village
- they all line up in a line and proceed to snap of 10 shots each as quickly as possible
- digital cameras are passed around the group so everyone can get a shot of themselves on their own cameras standing in from of the castle/ruin/coastline/authentic indigenous village
- the tour guide blows a whistle, shouts out that time is up and gets the driver to honk his horn
- 40 tourists pile back onto the bus
- the bus roars off to the next ‘scenic lookout’
I’m not knocking tours – I’ve done a few in my time and know that while it’s great to travel at your own pace that tours have some good things going for them.
However, these ‘photo stops’ do no really lend themselves to creative and unique images. I suspect most of the 40 tourists on the bus end up with pretty much identical images to one another (and 99% of tourists on every other bus that goes by).
So how can you do something a little more creative on your next tour? Here are 10 ideas that come to mind:
1. Explore the location
99% of photos that I saw taken by my fellow travelers on my last trip were taken from the same vantage point. One of the first things I did on a ‘photo stop’ was to find more interesting spots shoot from.
Walk up the road a little, walk to the other side of that castle, look for a higher vantage point etc. It is amazing what can be achieved even in just a few minutes by searching for a vantage point with a little difference.
Time might not always permit to fully explore a location but often tour guides will be willing to extend a stay at more interesting sites if you simply ask.
2. Find Fresh Angles
I’ve written before about how shooting from different angles can add creativity and interest to your shots so I won’t go into great detail here.
But get down low or find a way to shoot down on a subject and you’ll be surprised just how different your shots can be from your fellow travelers.
3. Different Lenses/Focal Lengths
On my last trip I traveled with a couple of lenses that constantly caused my fellow travelers to look at my shots at the end of the day with envy.
I took a 70-200mm lens and a 17-40mm lens. This gave me a very wide spread of focal lengths to choose from, something that added a lot of variety to my shots.
4. Wide Angle
Wide angle shots can be breath taking – both when shooting landscapes but particularly when shooting street scenes and portraits (you get all kinds of interesting angles). Some of the best shots from my last trip were shot at 17mm and I came home wishing I’d had something even wider.
5. Zoom Zoom Zoom
Having a long zoom when traveling can give you opportunities that most of your fellow travelers won’t have. Being able to get a tightly cropped shot of the castle’s turrets or being able to photograph the dancers at the show that villages put on for you can be the ‘wow’ shots in your album. Fill Your Frame.
Of course there are a few costs with traveling with multiple lenses:
- Weight – big lenses weigh you down.
- Security – the more gear you take the more bits and pieces you have to keep an eye on as your travel and the more attention you draw to yourself
- Damage – changing lenses on the fly can be a bit risky both in terms of dropping gear and getting dust into your camera. Take care.
- Time – changing lenses too much can mean you have less time to actually enjoy the sites of your travel.
Another alternative when traveling is to choose a single lens with a wide zoom range.
6. Local People
I still remember a time on a recent trip to Turkey when on one of these ‘photostops’ where I came across a couple of young boys playing with some spinning tops. While the rest of my fellow travelers all took shots of a view 100 meters up the road I was lucky enough to get some great shots of these local kids having a grand old time playing (I got permission to photograph them from their Dad who was watching on).
While I love a great landscape shot I find that it’s often the shots of the local people in a location that can really give a good feel for the places that you travel to. Keep in mind it’s worth asking for permission when photographing strangers.
7. Go Vertical
As I look at my own previous travel shots I notice that I take a lot of images in the horizontal (or landscape) format. Perhaps you’re different to me but horizontal framing seems to be more ‘natural’ for me and I need to remind myself to think about vertical (portrait) framing.
One type of subject that can say so much about your location and which adds interest to any travel album are signs. No matter where you are in the world you’ll find signs telling people where they are, how to behave or pointing out some aspect of a location. Photographing them can be fun, inject humor and give context to the shots you take while traveling.
9. Photograph the Your Fellow Tourists
I still remember coming home from my first overseas trip as a 16 year old (I went on a school band trip to Malaysia) and showing the pictures that I took to my parents. They pointed out to me at the end of the album that I’d managed to photograph most of the buildings in Malaysia but didn’t have a single picture of those I was traveling with (or myself). People add so much to photographs – whether it’s those you meet on the road or those you’re traveling with and not capturing them can leave you disappointed when you get home. They can also help to show the cultural differences between the visitors you’re with and the local area.
10. Utilize Free Time to Go Exploring
When on an organized tour with others there can be limitations on how much time you have free for photography. Not everyone on the bus will share your passion for getting unique shots so you’ll want to utilize your spare time carefully. Most tours give free days and nights – use them wisely. When you get to a town or city where you’ll have free time look up the local attractions and ask locals for advice on what to see. Another good way to scope out the scenic sights is to check out postcard stands for the sites (postcards can sometimes give good examples of composition and vantage points too).
Update: Get everything You need to Know about Travel Photography in our New Guide
Since publishing this post we’ve put together an eBook specifically on Travel photography called Transcending Travel: a Guide to Captivating Travel Photography.