I love to travel. To me, nothing compares to living on the road and waking up to new places every day. All the different photographs I’ve made during my journeys are the most rewarding part of it all.
Making photos while traveling or on vacation has a special quality because you’re seeing your subjects often for the first time. Travel also presents unique challenges, though – unfamiliar landscape, climate, and culture can easily throw you off. However, it is those very things that can also make beautiful, one-of-a-kind photographs!
When travelling to new places, you want to create photos that express the way you feel about the place. You also want to make unique images that are unlike anyone else’s. The sense of wonder you feel when seeing beautiful places for the first time can easily translate into the images that you make with these three simple tips to help you take better photos.
1. Plan, plan, plan
Once you decide where you’re going, read up on the area and educate yourself about the place and what kind of conditions you can expect. What will the weather be like? Are there any special events taking place? Will the flowers be blooming? If you’re traveling internationally, is there a language barrier? If so, try to learn a few key words and carry a phrase book with you. No matter where in the world you go, locals are always more helpful when you make an effort to speak to them in their own language – even if it’s just a few words.
Find out what else is around that you might be able to see during your visit. If you’re photographing nature, you can find great locations by studying maps. Photography websites and forums are full of advice and examples of interesting places to shoot. Learning about the location’s history and culture will also help direct you to unique and interesting subjects.
Find out as much as you can about the places and subjects you’ll be photographing, so you can prepare for them. For instance, if you’re going to be shooting in the desert, near the ocean, or in very cold, wet, or humid environments, you’ll know to bring protective gear to shield your camera from damage caused by moisture, salt, and sand. If you expect temperatures lower than -10c or higher than 40c, extra batteries will be needed as they drain quickly at extreme temperatures. You might consider renting a particular type of lens that is perfect for your subject like a super-telephoto or a tilt-shift. You’ll also need to know what sort of clothes to wear for the weather.
2. Don’t let your gear drag you down
No matter where you’re headed, there are some things you’ll need no matter what. When packing your gear, make a checklist to ensure you don’t forget anything important. It should include:
- Your main camera
- A backup camera
- A normal focal length lens (around ~50mm)
- A long focal length lens (~100mm or more)
- A wide-angle lens (~35mm or less)
- Your favourite, most-used lens
- A polarizing filter
- A battery charger
- Spare batteries and memory cards, and a place to backup images (computer, external drive, the cloud)
- A lens cloth and/or air blower to keep your equipment clean
- A comfortable camera bag – preferably one that doesn’t stand out as a camera bag to avoid making yourself a target for thieves.
- A good, sturdy, but lightweight tripod. Many manufacturers such as Manfrotto, Giottos, and Benro (among others) make special travel tripods that are made of strong, light carbon fibre and fold up into a small carrying case.
Be selective with your packing. Don’t bring things you probably won’t use because camera bags can get very heavy, very fast. Use lightweight luggage and never check your camera bag, since checked luggage can be mishandled or lost. If you are flying, check the size and weight restrictions of carry-on luggage so you don’t get an unwelcome surprise at the airport. If you leave your home country, purchase travel insurance that will cover your precious equipment from loss, damage, or theft while abroad.
3. Seek the unique
When traveling, try to avoid the mass-marketed tours and biggest attractions. Not only are they full of people that get in the way of your shot, but they’re also full of people getting almost the exact same photos that you are. Instead, search for places that are beautiful but overlooked. You may be able to find this information online, but the best way is to be open and talk directly to the people who live there – start with your hotel staff, be friendly, and ask locals where the most beautiful places are that most people don’t see.
This can even start when booking your accommodations – instead of staying in a generic chain hotel, look for places with more character such as cabins, villas, or bed and breakfasts. Or, if you’re like me, you can find an RV site right in the midst of the beauty to call home base. This way, the place you spend the most time can present its own photographic opportunities.
Remember to give yourself time to experience the place before you start photographing. Give yourself a chance to find out what is special about the place first, and then try to convey that in your images. If you are photographing something common like a famous monument or national park, try to find a new perspective.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the exotic nature of new places. But always remember that good light is a photographer’s best friend. A new place may look fascinating to you in the middle of the day, but it will look magical during good light.