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Hands up guilty ones! Who here gets itchy feet after about 2 months and needs to travel? Worse still, do you need to have a holiday reserved as if you are trapped without this planned escape? My hand is most definitely reaching for the skies but I did just get back from Italy. I travel a lot.
In the past I have been less than prepared and, all too late on my return, it was obvious in the quality of my images. For this article, I will highlight some of my tips and tricks to make the most from a photo trip away. In addition, I have restricted the images in this article to my recent destination, Florence, to further illustrate a little planning ahead can yield great results.
I am principally interested in architecture and landscape so my planning revolves around the light and the aversion of as many tourists as I can reasonably manage. People are good for scale but a 2 storey high statue of an intensely staring God, Neptune, surrounded by balloons and a massive throng of blue shirted people will not make an impressive image.
Not having visited Florence previously, I go straight to Flickr, Wikipedia and Google. Searching Flickr, ordering by ‘most interesting’ does seem a little like cheating, but I only had 3 dawns and 4 sun sets to play with. I doubt I would have found any undiscovered Florence in such a small time scale!
Utilizing image sites like Flickr, Google and Wikipedia will net you interesting buildings and scenes to photograph. It will be obvious where the good light is coming from and , on checking the timestamps in the EXIFs, what time of day too.
A slight digression on the importance of not losing images. I always take a laptop, 2 portable hard drives and spare Compact Flash cards. A drive that will directly take a CF/SD card, if your laptop fails, is also a good precaution. Also remember large capacity cards are very useful, but how many images are you prepared to lose in one go?
Dawn and dusk are the obvious times to be outside however I will use the time in between to venture inside buildings. If Europe is anything to go by each place of interest is closed on at least one day in the week and when they are open, access is potentially restricted to specific times. There may also be the requirement to book ahead. Did you notice all these lovely Italian scenes are outside? Guess who forgot to book tickets to indoor attractions?! Ahem. Many sites, open to the public, will have a policy on bags and tripods. You can pretty much always get away with a monopod, but I do get a little stressed when I find out I have to check in my back pack.
I encourage photographers to get somewhat lost in new places; there’s no quicker way to find and get a real sense of the local ‘scene’, but do take a guide book. My partner gets excited about trips and buys several. Lonely Planet and Rough Guide are great examples. Check they are recent editions.
As soon as you get to your destination scout your locations ahead of Sun up and Sun down. The internet got you to this point and you know the buildings and scenes to capture, but this is an opportunity to cultivate your own shooting style so take the time to look around each scene. There are some useful compositional tips in my previous post, Photographing Buildings.
The light will dictate the main aspects of your compositions, but there are many factors you can influence.
Balance your positive and negative space. Do the surroundings complement or weaken the main subject or building? Don’t be afraid to get closer – in Namibia, I spent hours literally 8 feet from a tall tree to get a ‘solitary imposing tree in a desert’ shot.
Do you need to emphasize the depth of field or the sheer scale of the scene. Setting your tripod low for a wide angle will help. You can force perspective by shooting a multiple shot panorama with a longer focal length.
When you prepare to go out ensure you can cover focal lengths to at least 100mm. I don’t use filters, but you might. Take a spare card or 2 – they do corrupt. Spare batteries, especially if cold outside and/or using live view. Does your remote trigger use batteries also? I actually use a wired shutter release, for this very reason. Take cleaning cloths, times two, lens wipes – the ones that come soaked in lens cleaner. Also take water, food, a torch and several plastic bags in case of heavy rain. Finally, in the field, who else has forgotten the tripod adapter was not already screwed to the base of the camera body?!
On location, and for each composition, I will shoot close focus images in addition to the main exposures. Not entirely trusting of histograms, I will pretty much always shoot a set of bracketed shots.
Be the humble photographer and don’t assume you have captured the best scene. Here’s the test when you think you’re done – ask yourself, “Am I coming back to shoot this scene properly?”.
Make best use of the light. Use your feet and shoot from somewhere else. Countless times I have berated myself for not taking an additional set of images 30 feet to the left or right, or closer. And for such simple mistakes too, like clutter I simply didn’t see or vertices that are obscured or just look weird with my chosen perspective.
Don’t forget you’re on holiday! After the dawn shoot is the perfect time for a local breakfast. Camera straps were also invented to solve the problem of free hands to hold pizza and ice cream whilst walking!
Use the busy and touristy day times to walk light with a camera and lens and capture the faces and details on the street. I confess I am a bit ‘old school’ and will just attach my 50mm f/1.2. Walk, shoot and eat. It is your holiday, after all!
You’ll notice this is a Part 1. As you head home, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be keen to process and publish those images. My camera settings are perpetually in a neutral state, so I definitely have work to do in front of the monitor. In Part 2, along with some sample Photoshop files, I will reveal my image editing workflow; how I process my images for screen and print.