5 Common Mistakes Aspiring Travel Photographers Make (+ How to Avoid Them)

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This travel photography post is written by Mitchell Kanashkevich – author of Transcend Travel: a Guide to Captivating Travel Photography

As you can gather from the title, this post relates to travel photography. However, I want to note that travel photography is a broad topic and so for most part, the mistakes that I’ll discuss here are actually made by the majority of those of us who are in the beginning of our journey into the world of photography, regardless of the genre we’re involved in.

Because I wanted to go into some detail and to provide some visual examples, we’ve decided to split this post up into two parts. Without further ado, here’s part I and check back for part II.

1. Having misconceptions about equipment

The two main misconceptions that we most often have about equipment when we’re starting out in photography are:

  • The latest, greatest gear results in better photos.
  • The gear you have is not good enough because your images are not. In other words you blame the equipment.

A camera doesn’t take the photo, nor does any piece of photographic equipment. Photos are made by you – the photographer. Sure in some very rare cases you might have a technical issue with a camera body or a lens, but for most part that’s not the concern. Most of the essential photographic gear is better than good enough these days, it has been for the last five years or so (with the development of affordable digital SLRs), one just has to know how to use it to its full potential.

My advice here in short is – forget about chasing the latest, greatest stuff. Get out there with what you have, figure out how to get the most out of your equipment, learn when to use one lens over another, when to use a tripod and of course, learn about the basics of photography – setting the aperture, shutter speed and ISO. This might seem like the most obvious advice imaginable, but somehow so many aspiring photographers still think that it’s all about the equipment you have, there’s just nothing further from the truth.

2. Not Researching

When I refer to research, I simply mean gathering as much information as possible about the place you’re traveling to. The best time/season to travel, the DOs and DON’Ts, the modes of transportation – these are the necessities, that we must find out about before every trip in order to have a smooth experience not only as far as photographing, but traveling in general.

Beyond the necessities, when photography is the main focus of your trip, it’s worth finding out as much as possible about what’s visually special in the place you’re going to. Sometimes this isn’t going to be obvious, you might have to dig a little, but when you do, a great number of photographic opportunities arise.

Traditional Vedhic school, Thrissur, India

I’ve chosen to include the image above because the story behind it is a good example of what even simple research can lead to. The photo depicts a Namboodiri boy (priest caste) chanting the Vedhas (which can be described in short ancient Indian bits of wisdom) in a traditional Vedhic school in the town of Thrissur. This place (the school) is not a major attraction, it’s not something that the regular visitor travels to Thrissur for, but to me it provided an incredibly interesting photographic opportunity. Despite the fact that I would have never just wandered in there by random chance, as the school is isolated from the main town, it wasn’t at all hard to find it or gain access to shoot there, it was simply a matter of knowing that it existed.

The reason I knew about it is very simple – I researched and by this I don’t mean that I did something complicated and difficult. I went into the tourist office and chatted to the staff there, telling them that I’m a photographer and that I’m keen to see anything that’s visually interesting and unique in their town. After “picking their brains” for about an hour I got a few bits of useful information and the traditional Vedhic school was one of the places I realised I just had to check out.

3. Not looking beyond the main attraction

A lot of travel destinations have “must see”, “must photograph” main attractions. Sometimes we get so obsessed with getting an image of these attractions that we fail to see the subjects around them which could be equally or even more photographically interesting.

I’ve been guilty of this numerous times in the past and so these days I consciously force myself to look at what else there is to photograph besides the obvious. Sometimes this might even mean that I stay at a place for an extra day or two. I photograph the main attraction and then discover the lesser known yet still photo-worthy subjects. This is how the following image came to be. It was taken in Bromo National park.

Bromo National Park, Java, Indonesia

During my first couple of days I shot what everyone shoots there – the Bromo volcano and the neighbouring mountains, from different viewpoints. On the third day, rather than make my way to another viewpoint from which to photograph the volcano and mountains at sunrise, I decided to purposely focus my attention elsewhere. I rode around the area on a rented motorcycle and noticed the spectacular scene of these horsemen walking in the fog through the surrounding volcanic desert.

4. Not being aware of light

Not being aware of light means that you simply shoot whatever you see in any given lighting conditions without giving much thought to the whole matter. Your results might have impact on the viewer every now and then and they might sometimes reflect what you want to say and how you feel about what you see, but more often than not that won’t be the case.

Being aware of light means that you know there are different kinds of light and that the way your image looks will greatly depend on the light you shoot it in. This of course also means that you can make a conscious effort to photograph in the kind of light which will reflect what you want to say and how you feel about the subject you’re photographing.

Let’s look at a simple example.

Transylvanian countryside, Romania

The landscape in the image above looks beautiful, vibrant and dramatic because it is lit by the golden light during sunrise. I made a conscious decision to photograph in this kind of light because I knew that it would bring the colours present in this scene to life and it would basically “beautify” everything.

The light enabled me to create an image that reflected what I wanted to say – how beautiful Transylvanian countryside is, as well as to communicate the excitement which I felt. Had I photographed the same scene without considering light, I could have very well ended up with something much less dramatic. I would have likely just photographed the landscape the first time I saw it and that was on an overcast day, when the light made everything look rather grey and drab.

5. Avoiding artificial light

As we get a little more familiar with light and begin to develop an understanding of how it effects our photographs, a lot of us tend to move away from using artificial light, especially flashes.

The reason most of us do this is because we don’t have enough knowledge about artificial light. It’s true that the on-camera flash should indeed be avoided at all costs, but it’s not the only available artificial lighting option and avoiding artificial light altogether means you’ll never see what you can achieve with it, which in my opinion is a big mistake.

The artificial lighting tools that I consider a great addition to any serious travel photography enthusiast’s kit are an off camera flash in a softbox and/or a reflector. The reason these tools are great is that they allow you to control the light or to manipulate it. This opens one up to a whole range of creative opportunities or even opportunities to make photographs in situations where it would be impossible to do so otherwise. The following image is a good example of this.

Nomads at a camel fair, Kolayat, Rajasthan, India

The only reason I could make this shot was because I had the artificial light from an off-camera flash in a softbox “assisting” the light from the fire, which on its’ own was no where near strong enough to allow me to make the kind of photo I wanted.

Without getting into too much more detail because of the constraints of a blog post, I will say that artificial light is a very exciting topic. If you’re interested in learning more about it, particularly portable, artificial light in the form of an off-camera flash and a reflector, you can check out my eBook “Seeing the Light”, which was featured here on DPS a while a go. Find out more about Seeing the Light.

Update: check out part 2 of this series – 5 MORE mistakes travel photographers make.

Also check out Mitchell’s eBook – Transcend Travel: a Guide to Captivating Travel Photography.

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  • Not using or overusing artificial lights are the most common mistake of aspiring photographer. Great post

  • @duke miller Nah, I got it. I forgot to put a smiley there the end of the sentence 🙂
    But my point was that if one is really serious about producing strong photos, doing something like carrying a softbox is a “sacrifice” that at times needs to be made.

    It’s definitely not for everyone, but considering how small the portable softboxes are these days (they fit in a purse or a handbag) it’s actually not that much of an effort. I just want to dispel any notion that we just somehow chance upon strong photographs. Chance/luck is part of it, but it is far from enough to create something truly worthwhile and that’s something that everyone should learn from the beginning in my opinion.

  • Shaun Kokkin

    The picture with “Avoiding artificial light” is good however the unnatural lighting of the girls face (Shadow on side which faces fire – where the light should be coming from) is a let down. Great article however.

  • Maitra

    Hi guys ,
    Quite an interesting discussion !
    Sometimes you have constraints while you travel like when you can’t be on your own or not in a position to carry your equipment around.I am joining a group to see FIFA world cup matches.
    Is there any suggestion on Johannesburg ,Capetown & Durban in South Africa?

  • wal

    Great article and tips, travelling as light as possible is always best.

  • This is very helpful for people like me who are new to photography!! Do you have basic tutorial for newbies too? Thanks!

  • Thanks for the excellent tips! The point about doing research before a visit is definitely crucial – both as a photographer and a tourist. Unfortunately, I’m someone who tends to start planning the holiday during the holiday, which is a little late. Here are some travel photos of mine:
    1. Bali: http://www.jjsolomon.com/search/label/Bali
    2. Bristol: http://www.shutteria.com/search/label/Bristol

  • @Joel – you’re not seriously juxtaposing Bali and Bristol? No contest!

    You were in the street of the Old Duke and the Landogger Trow. Cider in the first, food in the second 😉

  • tvishi

    great tips. thanks so much!

  • Tiberman

    I bought my first DSLR 5 months ago. I ‘ learn ‘ , keep notes and practice, giving myself about one to two hours every day. ALL the notes are drawn from tips like yours, Mitchell. Already, I couldn’t agree more with particularly tips 1 and 4 about equipment and light. Time is not quite on my side, since my shots will be for a book I am writing.
    Any specific tips for shots meant to be published in books? The shots include landscapes, monuments, cemeteries, bridges, churches and temples, and people.
    Tiberman – Mauritius

  • Hendra Tanzil

    Hi Mitchell, I love your photo and it’s really inspire me. I’m from Indonesia 🙂 …love your photo @ Bromo and kawah ijen…lovely and how you tell the story..

  • @tiberman – just think about how what you’re shooting can be used to illustrate what you are writing about. If you plan to put text over images – think about including more negative space into your images. That”s pretty much all.

  • Hi Mitchell,
    I have been following you on flickr for more than one year and last month I bought your ebook on post processing .In this weekend I have a plan to finish it. Your photos have been a great inspiration to me.

    Recently I wrote an article on portrait photography in DPS , please check it if you have time..https://digital-photography-school.com/tips-for-portrait-photography

    Bests

    Tuhin

  • Tiberman

    Hi Mitchell – thanks for the advice. But I am a DSLR beginner – although my engineering background helps in understanding the technical aspects of photography – ah, I hope your tips continue to cater for green beginners. Let alone we outnumber the experienced ones, many of us hesitate to post up ‘ silly ‘ questions. I have a tip for my category: ALL the settings available in your camera should be printed out on an A3 sheet, and it should be there in front of you when you are experimenting. And all means all.
    Tiberman

  • good article, right to the major points, I get back from travels and am disappointed with my photos all the time, so much easier photographing a city you know..

  • Great topic and thank you for these tips! It’s really true that sometimes we tend to ignore other points of interest. We only concentrate on the must see and must photograph places and events but sometimes, unique and unnoticed subject tend to get more interest from the viewer. Your topic definitely helps every budding travel photographers!

  • Aashish Bansiwala

    Lovely tips; thanks!

  • Mitchell,

    You’ve made some excellent points!

    Particularly that of Not Being Aware of Light. (And you don’t need to travel anywhere to USE that tip!)

    Research is another important point!

    I love your photos. Particularly Bromo National Park, Java, Indonesia and Transylvanian countryside, Romania.

    Nomads at a camel fair is a lovely photo but I would expect to have the camp fire as the main light source (not the flash positioned at the left).

    I once photographed a similar situation but I had only one figure to deal with, not two.

    [eimg url=’http://modelpix.com/htmlLocation/photos/Donnastiafire.jpg’ title=’Donnastiafire.jpg’]

    I’ve attached my solution, shot back in the 1980s.

    Campfire in Moab | Bazaar
    We got this little campfire going for our model. I had no color filters with me but I did have a box of cigars. I bounced a small flash unit out of the cigar box (natural wood color) to try to warm the light a touch.

    Cheers,

    Stan

  • Antonio Tannas

    Great tips, especially applicable to my situation, since I’m currently travelling. The only thing I find to be a bit of an issue is that you only really just plugged your books in the article. There’s a really amazing, well known, free resource on off camera lighting out there, and I think the readers should be aware of it too. Anyone curious about it, just Google Strobist. Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about off camera lighting is right there.

  • Tiberman

    As a DSLR beginner I haven’t reached the stage of off camera lighting yet (except for one shot using my car’s headlights; it worked) but I took night shots using overexposure (+0.3 to 1.7) and they came out passably. I grew up in a village and I wouldn’t accept that shot in Kolayat. The lighting just isn’t natural. BUT it is a great photo, composition-wise; AND it tells a story. But I have no doubt about one thing – I’ll soon join the club of photography-for-photography’s-sake.
    Tiberman – Mauritius

  • Jeff

    #6 – Adding vignette to everything…..

  • As a Indonesian, seeing a photo like you took in Bromo National Park is really something. It’s fresh, unique, and differrent. Usually people come there only to shoot the mountain very early morning or make medium portrait of the horseman. This is an enlightenment.

  • @Stan, I get what you mean, but I feel that it’s a subjective matter. I mean there could be another fire from where the light is coming from and yes, the fact that I wanted light on both of the people played part in me setting it up where I did. 9 out of 10 times I would have set it up, so that the light would look like it’s coming from the fire in the image.

    @Jeff – LOL 🙂 that’s definitely something that baffles me. Why do people like to add vignette so much? There is a place for it, if it is done well, but so often I see people doing some very cheesy stuff with it.

    @chusnul khairuddin – Indonesia is very special to me and so is the Bromo region, I stayed there for a few days, hiked a along the crater rim and beyond and rode a motorcycle around the “desert sea” towards that famous viewpoint, as well as to Malang a few days later. I think that exploration and looking where others don’t look really helps one to create images that are a little beyond the ordinary, more engaging.

  • Stephen Berk

    Agree on everything but the equipment. Equipment will limit your artistic vision or personal preferences for noise. My Nikon D200 cannot perform as well as a Nikon D3x, and there’s nothing my “eye” can do to fix the difference in picture quality. At web resolution, I agree that the photographer is the real problem, but at large print quality, I need a better camera to hit the standards I want for print work.

  • Bryen

    I recently went on a business trip to Germany and decided to first make a photography trip to Paris. Paris is, of course the City of Lights, and I happen to adore taking photos of architecture in the early evening hours when the sun is just setting and the lights begin to shine on the buildings. This was in May and I didn’t realize that Paris’s sunset time was WAAAY different than mine in Chicago. Where we were getting sunsets around 8-ish, we didn’t get sunsets in Paris until around 9:30!

    I was way too tired to keep up with the later times and all the walking around further into the night that it would entail (jet lag and all). Fortunately, I have an opportunity to return again in October and try again.

    Lesson to learn: Check the sunrise/sunset times in your destination. Depending on the kind of shots you like to take, it may not be the right time of year to go.

  • Probably the best advice I was ever given about photography is your first point here: don’t blame the equipment– it doesn’t take the picture, you do. Keeping that in mind while I’m out has given me the push to take stronger photos. My progression is marked. I don’t let my equipment limit me so I don’t have to wait for newer, better equipment so that I can grow and change. I don’t let my camera define me.

  • Great tips. I’ve thought awareness of light and its affects on my pictures is the biggest way I’ve improved my shots over the years. And it’s cheap. As you say, it’s not about the equipment – that’s just an excuse. Thanks.

  • Thank you!

  • Tushar dhuri

    very help full blog for photography. If we do travelingand we don’t have clear and well catch photograph then we can’t memorize all moment. So clean, clear and creative photography is must.

  • Roy Edenfield

    What causes this?

    The reason most of us do this is because we don’t have enough knowledge about artificial light. It’s true that the on-camera flash should indeed be avoided at all costs, but it’s not the only available artificial lighting option and avoiding artificial light altogether means you’ll never see what you can achieve with it, which in my opinion is a big mistake.

    I assume there should be an apostrophe where junk is inserted?

  • LisaOsta

    Shouldn’t there be a credit given to Mitchell Kanashkevich for the article? It refers to him at the end but he is not directly credited.

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    “The latest, greatest gear results in better photos” … sounds bad but it is a real fact that it contributes to better photos even though it may not that significant. ;). I love blaming my equipments because it makes me feel better 😉

  • jumbybird

    I thought is was unique to me my mac and safari…

  • jumbybird

    It IS…. you don’t see the same thing on firefox.

  • Sheldon

    Great article. Very helpful. Your photos are inspiring. Thank you.

Some Older Comments

  • David September 9, 2010 03:06 pm

    Great tips. I've thought awareness of light and its affects on my pictures is the biggest way I've improved my shots over the years. And it's cheap. As you say, it's not about the equipment - that's just an excuse. Thanks.

  • ShutterBug August 17, 2010 02:55 am

    Probably the best advice I was ever given about photography is your first point here: don't blame the equipment-- it doesn't take the picture, you do. Keeping that in mind while I'm out has given me the push to take stronger photos. My progression is marked. I don't let my equipment limit me so I don't have to wait for newer, better equipment so that I can grow and change. I don't let my camera define me.

  • Bryen June 28, 2010 01:43 pm

    I recently went on a business trip to Germany and decided to first make a photography trip to Paris. Paris is, of course the City of Lights, and I happen to adore taking photos of architecture in the early evening hours when the sun is just setting and the lights begin to shine on the buildings. This was in May and I didn't realize that Paris's sunset time was WAAAY different than mine in Chicago. Where we were getting sunsets around 8-ish, we didn't get sunsets in Paris until around 9:30!

    I was way too tired to keep up with the later times and all the walking around further into the night that it would entail (jet lag and all). Fortunately, I have an opportunity to return again in October and try again.

    Lesson to learn: Check the sunrise/sunset times in your destination. Depending on the kind of shots you like to take, it may not be the right time of year to go.

  • Stephen Berk June 27, 2010 12:56 pm

    Agree on everything but the equipment. Equipment will limit your artistic vision or personal preferences for noise. My Nikon D200 cannot perform as well as a Nikon D3x, and there's nothing my "eye" can do to fix the difference in picture quality. At web resolution, I agree that the photographer is the real problem, but at large print quality, I need a better camera to hit the standards I want for print work.

  • Mitchell Kanashkevich June 22, 2010 02:01 pm

    @Stan, I get what you mean, but I feel that it's a subjective matter. I mean there could be another fire from where the light is coming from and yes, the fact that I wanted light on both of the people played part in me setting it up where I did. 9 out of 10 times I would have set it up, so that the light would look like it's coming from the fire in the image.

    @Jeff - LOL :) that's definitely something that baffles me. Why do people like to add vignette so much? There is a place for it, if it is done well, but so often I see people doing some very cheesy stuff with it.

    @chusnul khairuddin - Indonesia is very special to me and so is the Bromo region, I stayed there for a few days, hiked a along the crater rim and beyond and rode a motorcycle around the "desert sea" towards that famous viewpoint, as well as to Malang a few days later. I think that exploration and looking where others don't look really helps one to create images that are a little beyond the ordinary, more engaging.

  • chusnul khairuddin June 21, 2010 03:47 pm

    As a Indonesian, seeing a photo like you took in Bromo National Park is really something. It's fresh, unique, and differrent. Usually people come there only to shoot the mountain very early morning or make medium portrait of the horseman. This is an enlightenment.

  • Jeff June 20, 2010 10:40 pm

    #6 - Adding vignette to everything.....

  • Tiberman June 18, 2010 08:18 am

    As a DSLR beginner I haven't reached the stage of off camera lighting yet (except for one shot using my car's headlights; it worked) but I took night shots using overexposure (+0.3 to 1.7) and they came out passably. I grew up in a village and I wouldn't accept that shot in Kolayat. The lighting just isn't natural. BUT it is a great photo, composition-wise; AND it tells a story. But I have no doubt about one thing - I'll soon join the club of photography-for-photography's-sake.
    Tiberman - Mauritius

  • Antonio Tannas June 17, 2010 03:05 pm

    Great tips, especially applicable to my situation, since I'm currently travelling. The only thing I find to be a bit of an issue is that you only really just plugged your books in the article. There's a really amazing, well known, free resource on off camera lighting out there, and I think the readers should be aware of it too. Anyone curious about it, just Google Strobist. Everything you've ever wanted to know about off camera lighting is right there.

  • Stan Malinowski June 17, 2010 10:09 am

    Mitchell,

    You've made some excellent points!

    Particularly that of Not Being Aware of Light. (And you don't need to travel anywhere to USE that tip!)

    Research is another important point!

    I love your photos. Particularly Bromo National Park, Java, Indonesia and Transylvanian countryside, Romania.

    Nomads at a camel fair is a lovely photo but I would expect to have the camp fire as the main light source (not the flash positioned at the left).

    I once photographed a similar situation but I had only one figure to deal with, not two.

    [eimg url='http://modelpix.com/htmlLocation/photos/Donnastiafire.jpg' title='Donnastiafire.jpg']

    I've attached my solution, shot back in the 1980s.

    Campfire in Moab | Bazaar
    We got this little campfire going for our model. I had no color filters with me but I did have a box of cigars. I bounced a small flash unit out of the cigar box (natural wood color) to try to warm the light a touch.

    Cheers,

    Stan

  • Aashish Bansiwala June 17, 2010 01:09 am

    Lovely tips; thanks!

  • Joey M. Fradejas June 16, 2010 03:10 pm

    Great topic and thank you for these tips! It's really true that sometimes we tend to ignore other points of interest. We only concentrate on the must see and must photograph places and events but sometimes, unique and unnoticed subject tend to get more interest from the viewer. Your topic definitely helps every budding travel photographers!

  • Jonathan June 16, 2010 02:25 pm

    good article, right to the major points, I get back from travels and am disappointed with my photos all the time, so much easier photographing a city you know..

  • Tiberman June 12, 2010 08:25 am

    Hi Mitchell - thanks for the advice. But I am a DSLR beginner - although my engineering background helps in understanding the technical aspects of photography - ah, I hope your tips continue to cater for green beginners. Let alone we outnumber the experienced ones, many of us hesitate to post up ' silly ' questions. I have a tip for my category: ALL the settings available in your camera should be printed out on an A3 sheet, and it should be there in front of you when you are experimenting. And all means all.
    Tiberman

  • Tuhin Subhra Dey June 12, 2010 07:52 am

    Hi Mitchell,
    I have been following you on flickr for more than one year and last month I bought your ebook on post processing .In this weekend I have a plan to finish it. Your photos have been a great inspiration to me.

    Recently I wrote an article on portrait photography in DPS , please check it if you have time..https://digital-photography-school.com/tips-for-portrait-photography

    Bests

    Tuhin

  • Mitchell Kanashkevich June 12, 2010 01:55 am

    @tiberman - just think about how what you're shooting can be used to illustrate what you are writing about. If you plan to put text over images - think about including more negative space into your images. That''s pretty much all.

  • Hendra Tanzil June 11, 2010 05:27 pm

    Hi Mitchell, I love your photo and it's really inspire me. I'm from Indonesia :) ...love your photo @ Bromo and kawah ijen...lovely and how you tell the story..

  • Tiberman June 11, 2010 08:55 am

    I bought my first DSLR 5 months ago. I ' learn ' , keep notes and practice, giving myself about one to two hours every day. ALL the notes are drawn from tips like yours, Mitchell. Already, I couldn't agree more with particularly tips 1 and 4 about equipment and light. Time is not quite on my side, since my shots will be for a book I am writing.
    Any specific tips for shots meant to be published in books? The shots include landscapes, monuments, cemeteries, bridges, churches and temples, and people.
    Tiberman - Mauritius

  • tvishi June 8, 2010 08:41 pm

    great tips. thanks so much!

  • Dave Hodgkinson June 8, 2010 12:03 am

    @Joel - you're not seriously juxtaposing Bali and Bristol? No contest!

    You were in the street of the Old Duke and the Landogger Trow. Cider in the first, food in the second ;-)

  • Joel June 7, 2010 07:47 pm

    Thanks for the excellent tips! The point about doing research before a visit is definitely crucial - both as a photographer and a tourist. Unfortunately, I'm someone who tends to start planning the holiday during the holiday, which is a little late. Here are some travel photos of mine:
    1. Bali: http://www.jjsolomon.com/search/label/Bali
    2. Bristol: http://www.shutteria.com/search/label/Bristol

  • Akina June 7, 2010 03:11 pm

    This is very helpful for people like me who are new to photography!! Do you have basic tutorial for newbies too? Thanks!

  • wal June 7, 2010 12:38 pm

    Great article and tips, travelling as light as possible is always best.

  • Maitra June 6, 2010 10:03 pm

    Hi guys ,
    Quite an interesting discussion !
    Sometimes you have constraints while you travel like when you can't be on your own or not in a position to carry your equipment around.I am joining a group to see FIFA world cup matches.
    Is there any suggestion on Johannesburg ,Capetown & Durban in South Africa?

  • Shaun Kokkin June 6, 2010 10:33 am

    The picture with "Avoiding artificial light" is good however the unnatural lighting of the girls face (Shadow on side which faces fire - where the light should be coming from) is a let down. Great article however.

  • Mitchell Kanashkevich June 5, 2010 02:02 pm

    @duke miller Nah, I got it. I forgot to put a smiley there the end of the sentence :)
    But my point was that if one is really serious about producing strong photos, doing something like carrying a softbox is a "sacrifice" that at times needs to be made.

    It's definitely not for everyone, but considering how small the portable softboxes are these days (they fit in a purse or a handbag) it's actually not that much of an effort. I just want to dispel any notion that we just somehow chance upon strong photographs. Chance/luck is part of it, but it is far from enough to create something truly worthwhile and that's something that everyone should learn from the beginning in my opinion.

  • VanillaSeven June 5, 2010 01:10 pm

    Not using or overusing artificial lights are the most common mistake of aspiring photographer. Great post

  • Duke Miller June 5, 2010 12:54 pm

    @MITCHELL. You missed my point. The Sherpa was tongue in cheek. My point was, how many people really travel with a light box?

  • Mitchell Kanashkevich June 5, 2010 03:30 am

    @Craig - Thanks for the compliments. I'm not saying that "latest, greatest" stuff in unnecessary, but as this post is mostly for those at the beginning of their journey, I feel that the basic gear that you've mentioned is usually better than the photographer in most cases. I feel like the gear should only really be upgraded if it limits the photographer. Now, for most part even the 400D Camera body is not limiting, unless you're shooting a lot in low light. A 400D or now the 550D along with a good lens used by a skilful photographer will produce results which absolutely no one will be able to tell apart from images made on a Canon 5D MK II. I'm not saying that the more advanced camera isn't better and more comfortable to work with, but if one's photos are weak with the 400D they will still be weak with the more expensive camera body.

    @scott - Communicate, interact, smile, show interest in the person that you want to photograph. There are a few ways to do this, I mention some of them in the eBook, but the basic gist of it is that you have to have the approach that the person is well, a person and not a prop for us photographers to be photographed. For intimate portraits, I talk and even become friends with some of my "subjects" with street stuff, it's just basic interaction through gestures, body language and I do try to learn the language whenever possible. When the language is an issue, I have someone with me translating, usually a local friend who speaks enough English.
    Thanks for the feedback. :)

  • scott June 5, 2010 01:52 am

    As mentioined earlier, this has been among the best DPS articles I've read. Beautiful photographs, too. I lived in Indonesia several years and even spent the night atop Bromo waiting for the sun to rise - and kick myself for not looking around more for the 'side stories'.

    One tip I would like to see ... how do you deal with the people you are photographing? Always seems to me a bit awkward (or worse) to snap them if they're not expecting it, but when they are the result could looked contrived. What's your technique to get subjects in places like Indonesia or India to let you capture their image?

  • CRAIG June 5, 2010 12:50 am

    Fantastic article and some very useful information there, thanks Mitchell. I do have to take issue with you on point 1 though! I agree with you up to a point but there does come a time when you do need to upgrade your equipment to the "latest and greatest" if you are serious. After learning for over 3 years on a canon 400d with kit lenses I learned over that time that my images were only going to be so good with that gear....I was only going to reach a certain level with my images, not from an aesthetical point of view where composition and light etc were the key elements but from a viewpoint where picture quality and flexibility (and therefore more creative control) of my equipment was limited. 6 months ago I upgraded to the 5DMKII and bought several L-series lenses to compliment and I have never looked back. I am happier, my photo's are better and I am inspired all over again. I am grateful that I cut my teeth on a cheaper entry level DSLR and learned the ropes but there does come a time when you have to have the gear that is commensurate to your skill level and experience....and I still have ALOT to learn!

  • Wendys Guardia June 4, 2010 10:21 pm

    I don't know how many times one can write thank you but THANK YOU SO MUCH! This has helped me more than i thought it will. I'm gonna keep reading about artificial lighting, I totally suck at it, but then again I haven't really practice much with it, it really is beautiful. I hope you all have a great day!
    xoxo
    W.

  • John Hemingway June 4, 2010 09:09 pm

    Very sound advice. Just after buying my first DSLR (Sony a350) I had a three week trip to New Zealand, The country is a photographers dream! I had to travel light and travel fast to see as much as possible, but still managed to take hundreds of shots.Overall I was more than happy with the results, but as I have learnt more about the cameras capabilities and added to my kit list, the more I want to go back and shoot them again! If you do not have time to wait for the light you would prefer, do the best you can with settings and filters. If you take as many shots as you can in the time you have, then there is a pretty good chance you will get the one that makes it all worthwhile!

  • Mitchell Kanashkevich June 4, 2010 01:18 pm

    @duke miller - You don't "happen upon them" you have to look for them, just as you have to look for any great photographs. Great images don't materialize out of nowhere.

    P.S. Sherpa's are an ethnic group that lives in the Himalayas in Nepal. This photo was taken on the outskirts of the desert in India, a bit far to see any Sherpas.

  • Ikhwan June 4, 2010 11:42 am

    hi Mitchell Kanashkevich, i totally agree...especially for point 1. i used to have a friend of mine (who introduce me in photography world), he always told not to depend on gears (espscially lens), until one day he ask me to only take 1 camera and 1 lens while traveling so i can understand and utilize my own equiptment...and he's right, i can know better the characteristic of the lens that i brought...and also make some good photos

  • Duke Miller June 4, 2010 10:45 am

    I'm still trying to grasp how in the the world I could ever happen upon some nomads around a campfire and at the same time be in possession of a soft box to aid my capture! A sherpa, perhaps?

  • PJ Lee June 4, 2010 07:31 am

    Fantastic outline of inspiring tips for anyone traveling. So many people spend so much $ on their travels and little to no prep on coming home with images that are technically good and visually interesting. I always tell friends who may not be photo-inclined, to test their cameras and settings before they leave. How many casual travelers only bring one data card or discover than they spent the whole trip on a low res Jpeg setting, etc.
    I'll send this your article to friends because it goes beyond the usual set of tips and encourages more interesting images. thanks!!

  • Susmit Haldar June 4, 2010 04:11 am

    Informative,practical tips for travel photography.

  • Thomas H. Robinson June 4, 2010 02:20 am

    Great tips and advice... though kinda 50/50 on the first point about equipment and using what you got. Slow lens and no lights would make a few of those night shots a bit hard to get. Especially when in point #5, it's suggested to buy equipment like flashes etc... in order to get certain shots.

  • Ron Cornelison June 3, 2010 11:04 pm

    Mitchell, what a great article, thanks for all of your well thought out points on photography, They will be very useful to me as I walk around my own city. As I travel around Texas, I can see many situations where your tips will be very useful. Looking forward to your E-book as well.

    On a side note for Darren at the best photography website I know of DPS. Drew stated in a comment above "I wish you’d make the daily email “lessons” printable, that is, have a print link on the page. I’m building a great library of lessons from your emails.

    I also copy DPS article's to my Photography tips folder on my computer as well. Many sites disappear when you return to them or have not archived the story your want to reread. Darren does a great job of keeping everything available, but just like my captures I want a backup plan just in case.

    DPS is on my Google home when I turn on my computer, it's one of my must reads everyday!

    Good Shooting everyone.
    Ron

  • Gary S June 3, 2010 10:55 pm

    Great stuff Mitchell! I just bought the ebook last night and loved it. I plan on reading it again tonight. I would suggest to all to buy the book. The advice and pictures are outstanding!! At $15 US it's about the same price as three good beers...and it doesn't make you pee.

  • Mitchell Kanashkevich June 3, 2010 06:30 pm

    @william - if money's an issue - get some cheap kit lens and the 50mm f1.8 Canon lens for $100 that people have mentioned. A lot of my early work was produced with these lenses and they are definitely good enough. Photos that I took with those lenses have been printed and published in a variety of ways, from gallery shows, to billboards to magazine covers.

  • Joao Assumcao June 3, 2010 08:45 am

    On the sample beautiful landscape image on - 4. Not being aware of light - that I have lots of mistakes.

    I don't have sure on where to point at and what king of meter to use, to acquire a good meter of the light, if I point at the middle of the image, I will get a dark photo and if I point to the lawn (where the sun is on) I will get an image with too much light.

    This is where of lots of my mistakes is on.

  • Peter Jakobs June 3, 2010 06:47 am

    @Mitchell Kanashkevich -- I guess we're on the same page here. Yes, there's nothing wrong with the picture postcards, actually, they're important as establishing shots, but I really like to go a little bit deeper, into something a bit enigmatic or something that reflects the sound/vibes/soul of a place. That's what picture postcards fail to do. They're nice but shallow. (this is what I'm talking about, and maybe this is an example for something that shows a bit more of what it means to be there). And yes, you're right, being slow is an important part of getting those deeper shots.

    @william -- ok, I don't know *what* you have, but don't let gear fool you. Many photographers, me included, sometimes use stuff that is terribly bad by any standards to create some of their best work. For me that's the Lensbaby, but I also know people using pinholes, old Polaroid/Land cameras and the likes. I know what you're saying and of course it always depends on what you're after, but: the largest portion of the image by far is created in your head, in your mind, in your eyes before you even lift up the camera. Here's what happened to me: I started out with a Canon 350D and two rather cheap Sigma lenses (18-125 and the 70-300). By a sudden stroke of luck, I was suddenly able to afford a whole range of Canon L Lenses (the 24-70 and the 70-200 f/2.8) and a 40D. So here I was with my shiny new gear, everybody thought I was a pro but: I was entirely unhappy with my results. They all looked like... meh! nothing to me. Yes, they were sharp, lots of contrast, they were bright, I could shoot under lower light conditions and stuff, but... somehow they were soleless. I think what had happened is this: the old lenses, limiting as they were, challenged me to find images that I could do, to be creative about the process, to push my limits. The new gear just could do it all, what do you want? I'll do it! but I wasn't up to the task. I shot lots of stuff, because I now could. Made a very unhappy photographer for about six months. I was almost ready to sell it all again. No kidding.

    Ok, of course, in the end, I came to terms with the new lenses, and today, the 24-70 is my absolute favorite, but what I'm saying is: don't get tooo worked up about the kit, try to find ways around it.

    pj

  • Jesse June 3, 2010 06:33 am

    This post, hands down, is the best thing I've ever read on DPS. Just in time too, going to Hawaii for 2 weeks. Thanks for all the great info!

  • william June 2, 2010 11:05 pm

    The thing about gear is that it's easy to say when you have about three lenses to change and a good tripod. But if you only have an inexpensive pretty crappy lens it is really hard to get the picture you really want.

  • Mitchell Kanashkevich June 2, 2010 12:28 pm

    @Peter Jakobs - I get what you're saying. The thing is - there's absolutely nothing wrong with shooting the postcard image, for most people that's satisfying enough, but for me - I want to create something a little different. But there's no right or wrong approach, really. As you spend more time in a place, then you are able to slow down and see what else there is to photograph, if you don't you aren't giving yourself a good chance. Again it all depends on what will make you satisfied - if that means getting the postcard image, shoot that and move on, if you want more - stick around a little and you'll inevitably start seeing beyond the obvious.

    @lew kline - There are certainly constraints when we travel and the fact is - good travel photography requires time. As I've mentioned in the 5 more common mistakes post, another mistake people make is that they don't leave whatever groups they travel with. There's no way around it, the "perfect" photo opportunities do not appear magically, sometimes we get lucky and we arrive at a scene at a perfect moment, but mostly we have to wait for that moment, this has to be understood.

    About your on camera flash experience, all I can say is that if you had that flash off camera, at an angle, you'd get a much more interesting look, the light that's created at an angle gives the image some depth, the on-camera flash makes everything look rather flat. In the end it's a subjective matter, some art photographers use an on-camera flash to express themselves, but in the art world people also pay millions of dollars for a photo of a photo used on a cigarette commercial, so go figure. :)

  • Lew Kline June 2, 2010 09:39 am

    Good article, good advice. Two exceptions I have (and I'm sure I will be chastised for at least one of them). I find often I don't have enough time to slow down to look for the good shots, go after the good light, due to constraints of the other traveling companions (who are not avid photographers). The one time I actually could do what I wanted, when I wanted, was when I was on my own, by myself. It was wonderful to be able to spend the whole day exploring, anytime of the day or night.
    Now about the part with the on-camera flash. I feel there are times, when I don't have the usual flash gear with me, that this little flash has helped to just put enough "pop" into the photo. I'm not talking about lighting the whole scene, but enough to fill in the shadows when they are too dark. I just had that sort of experience this past weekend photographing an old, broken wagon under an overhang...too dark without (and I was using a tripod), but just right with the pop up flash.
    Okay, I'm ready for the wet noodles.

  • Maureen June 2, 2010 02:12 am

    CC, I do have the 50mm 1.8 and it is an awesome lens but I find it's best for portraits, for group picture it's kind of hard and it's a bit slow to focus on a dim light (or maybe it's just my aperture challenged fingers) situations. My other lens is 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS it's a zoom lens and it's been great but I do dream of getting a wide angle one even the basic one.

  • drew June 2, 2010 01:31 am

    I wish you'd make the daily email "lessons" printable, that is, have a print link on the page. I'm building a great library of lessons from your emails. My photography skills have improved vastly in the 2 years I've been a subscriber. For now, I've been saving the emails to refer back to the various lessons. A link for "print" would be much appreciated.

    TY,

    PhotoguySoCal

  • Peter Jakobs June 2, 2010 12:45 am

    I made most of those mistakes, some of them more than once. However, the one thing that, at least for me, is most difficult to avoid is not (explicitly) on the list:
    do not shoot picture postcards
    What would happen to me is this: I go to places (like New Zealand in 2009) and be so completely overwhelmed by the beauty of the place that my eyes just glaze over. When everything is beautiful, I just tend to forget that still, I define my photography as "showing the things that are not immediately obvious to the eyes".
    So I click the shutter at what is there, in front of me, and, of course, beautiful. It is, however, nothing special, so what I come home with are pictures that I could have bought at the newsstand.
    In those situations, I know I need to slow down and look at what is behind the obvious beauty. Difficult when there's so much new and amazing stuff to look at like in NZ

    pj

  • Mitchell Kanashkevich June 2, 2010 12:43 am

    @CC - the lens you mention is indeed great and it's probably best value for money of any lens ever, but it's a little far fetched to say that it's the best lens, period. There's just a lot that you can't do with a 50mm, it serves a great purpose as a portrait lens for cropped sensor cameras and it's good for street photography on those types of cameras too. On a full frame sensor I find it to be quite a bit less effective for portraits, as you really have to get into the person's face to make a close up image and that's not always ideal, it's still nice for street though. But the bottom line is - there's no "best" lens, there's only a "best" lens for specific purposes.

    @Catalin - Romania is an amazing country! I gather that you are from there. I hope I get a chance to visit again. My most used lens, well there are two these days - Canon 24-70mm f2.8 (expensive, but very useful, especially on a full frame camera) I use this for most portraits and it's just a great all around lens when you need to capture something quickly (think street photography). The other is a Sigma 20mm f1.8, yes a Sigma and yes it's f1.8. It's a real nice lens, distorts like crazy around the edges on full frame cameras, but so does every other wide angle lens. I usually use this one in really cramped spaces. More info on this sort of stuff as well as examples in the eBook.

  • EdSarmiento June 2, 2010 12:39 am

    Very well said, last photograph is just so interesting, can't wait to try to use this technique.. thanks for sharing.

  • Catalin June 1, 2010 10:55 pm

    Great article, very good advices!

    I totally agree with you that the 'top notch' gear doesn't matter, but it counts what you can do with what you take with you on the trip and your talent/skills to use it.

    Glad to see that you have included a beautiful image from Transylvania!

    And now, a question from me: what's your most 'used' lens when you travel? A zoom, an ultra-wide?

    Thanks,

  • MH Media June 1, 2010 09:59 pm

    Do you wear spectacles/eyeglasses? Then take a spare pair! You may be able to adjust your camera's viewfinder (if it has one) to suit your natural, blurry vision but if you need to fumble about with controls in the dark you may not be so lucky. I always use those cheap "extra readers" that you can pick up for $10 or so - if they mangled it's no big deal and you can buy them almost anywhere..

  • MH Media June 1, 2010 09:55 pm

    Not checking for sensor dirt :-( If you're out for a day or a week and don't check your images on something bigger than your camera's screen then the Dust Bunnies may catch you out, especially if you're shooting lots of "big sky" pictures. In the UK (and I'm being serious here), you can often get away with it as the sky is usually grey, and sensor dirt can often stay hidden - not so in places where summer = summer.

    If your shoot is really important, try and check some of your images throughout the day. If you can't afford or don't want to carry a laptop, consider getting an electronic picture frame with self-contained rechargeable battery: you can pop your camera's memory card in and look at what you took in at least 7"x5".

  • cc June 1, 2010 08:28 pm

    @maureen: by far and away the best BEST travel lens is canon's 50mm 1.8. it is tiny, light, sharp, fast and at just under $100 dollars, it's almost disposable (meaning you won't have to cry yourself to sleep if it gets stolen/smashed) you can shoot wide open to get scenes where the light is really terrible. i recently took mine to spain and morocco and did not have to use my pop-up flash even once. i know that even as my lens collection grows and includes more professional lenses, i will always use my old, trusty 50mm for traveling.
    i know nikon also has one like it but if you are into the best lenses, you will be into canon anyway!

  • Conal Duffy June 1, 2010 06:44 pm

    Nice photos and information, traveling around the world is really amazing one
    cheers

  • Mitchell Kanashkevich June 1, 2010 04:28 pm

    Thanks for your positive feedback people

    @Tyler Wainright - check out my Blog post from some time ago, I talked about becoming/being a travel photographer href="http://tiny.cc/um8lo">HERE.

    @Dave Hodgkinson - you're right about Strobist, I usually mention that blog everywhere all the time, so yeh, it's a great source of info for anyone interested in off camera flash photography. The only negative is that the info is a bit all over the place and you'll need some time to do some quality "digging" around.

    @alex - The image was taken in a small village of Holbav, not too far from Brasov

    @BCOT - Agreed. A lot of my professional work was taken with the entry level DSLR Canon Rebel series. Those images have been used in print in a variety of ways - book covers, billboards, adds, large prints in galleries. No one can tell what camera they were taken with and the fact is - not many people who are purely viewers actually care. The only thing that matters is the image and yes it's “it’s not the wand, it’s the magician”. :) So just keep on shooting and "upgrade" only when you feel that you've truly outgrown the gear you have.

  • BCOT June 1, 2010 02:56 pm

    Thanks for this post. I travel quite a bit and decided to upgrade from my point and shoot to a Nikon D5000 so that I could create better photos. This is on the lower end of their DSLR offerings. I love, love, love this camera. I'm learning all the basics (aperture, focus, shutter speed, etc.) from a professional photographer. I've had a few people check out my baby DSLR as they pointed out their nicer, bigger, more complicated cameras and all I say is, "it's not the wand, it's the magician".

    Thanks for the tips!!

  • Maureen June 1, 2010 02:55 pm

    @ Micthell: Thanks for your reply. Will look forward to your next installment and e-book!

    @ Bruan: I know what you meant I've just been dreaming of owning a 'basic' wide angle lens for my travel to better capture the landscapes and all. :)

  • Alex June 1, 2010 02:37 pm

    Romania! Where were those pictures taken exactly?

    Great post, this are very good points to keep in mind for any aspiring travel photographer.

  • Dave Hodgkinson June 1, 2010 01:36 pm

    No mention of Strobist in the flash paragraph? For shame.

    I've had a fair few times some guerrilla flash work has made a picture. Oh, and McNally of course.

    I've been travelling a *lot* and would really like to step up the travel shooting. How about some things to *do* as well? :)

    And @Manish Ahuja, you don't need a DSLR. Any camera, even a phone camera will be a start. It's about the photographer's eye, not the gear.

  • Tyler Wainright June 1, 2010 01:09 pm

    What I want to know is how do I become a travel photographer? To see, and photograph, such amazing places would be a fantastic way to live the life. Great tips by the way

  • Chris June 1, 2010 10:17 am

    Great Tips before my trip in a couple of weeks.

  • alex_sydney June 1, 2010 08:55 am

    Can not agree more on off-camera flash. Highly recommend David Hobby's

  • Bruan June 1, 2010 08:02 am

    @maureen- I think you should re-read point 1. I always fall foul of this.

  • Jeffrey K. Edwards June 1, 2010 07:13 am

    Mitchell -

    Great introduction to your new ebook! All sound advice. The points I favor are especially your comments about gear, research and light (natural and artificial).

    I recently dropped my d700 and had to send it back to the Nikon Hospital for repairs.....its still there as I stare down an upcoming trip to Ireland and London next week. I have since started shooting again with my d80. I miss the crisp full frame images and ever forgiving iso tolerance of the d700. However, using just basic photography skills as you mentioned and being mindful of the d80's limitations has still yielded some wonderful images over the last several weeks. Thus, I am hopping the pond with d80 in hand and my best glass/tripod. As many have stated, it is not the camera that makes the image.....

    Research and getting out of the more traveled areas is what it's all about. I recently came across a flicker group "100 strangers" that forces you to be more adventurous, by submitting only portraits of people you don't know. What a great concept to inspire one to work outside the box, especially when traveling.

    As you note, we must always be mindful of the light. A recent Iphone app Photoluna has been a lifesaver for me, especially when on the go and unfamiliar with light in a new environment.

    Lastly, I did pick up a copy of your ebook "Seeing the Light" last year. Highly recommend it to all, excellent read, great insights and teaching points, spectacular images.

    Looking forward to your latest release.

  • Larry Lourcey June 1, 2010 06:27 am

    Great points - especially #4. The light is what separates a great image from a snapshot.

  • Mitchell Kanashkevich June 1, 2010 04:47 am

    Thanks for the feedback folks!

    @Maureen - Bromo is a surreal place and I love Indonesia (I spent about 4 months there). To answer your question about the lens; there's no "best" lens as such, rather there are lenses that are best for particular needs. I will go into detail about what these are and describe what they do in practical terms in the eBook. Also there a probably close to 100 images in it (in the eBook) and I've included the Exif data - lens used, as well as the settings used for each one of them, so that one can gain a better understanding of what the "right" lens would be for their own needs. Good luck shopping for your lens in Singapore. :)

    @Rick - totally agree, that's what I mentioned in the beginning of the post. Travel Photography is a somewhat deceiving term, at least the "travel" part of it is. We don't actually need to travel far to produce travel images. One's exotic travel destination is another person's backyard.

    @Brett - That looks like a pretty awesome and useful app, except that I assume one needs an internet connection for it to actually work, which makes it a little less practical in places without Wifi or 3G. But still, interesting.

  • Brett June 1, 2010 04:06 am

    Good tips. To confirm your point about research, I read a blog post recently by a local photographer who had guided a NatGeo photographer around the area. The thing he was most impressed with was the amount of research that the photographer had done before arriving.

    By the way, the iPad app LightTrac is a great tool for researching where the sun rises and sets around a particular location on a particular day. It could be used to plan a trip around the light for your desired subject. It also includes moon phase info. Screen shot here: http://invisiblebits.blogspot.com/2010/04/lighttrac-for-ipad-released.html

  • Greg Taylor June 1, 2010 02:12 am

    It's amazing how great photography typically always comes down to composition and light. Learn those two things and your chances increase exponentially to make a great photograph.

    Gear doesn't make the photographer as much as passion and knowledge does.

  • Rick June 1, 2010 02:09 am

    Most of these tips are sound advice for many forms of photography, whether you're traveling or not. Also, "travel" photography can mean going to the other side of the world or across the county. That said, this is a timely article with the upcoming travel season for many of us.

  • Maureen June 1, 2010 01:21 am

    Love this! Besides the obvious great pointers and awesome pictures, as an Indonesian, I am proud to see Bromo's picture and a very out of the box angle too! Will you talk about which lens 'best' to take for traveling? I don't have wide angle *yet* and have a short trip to Singapore comin up. Thanks again!

  • Manish Ahuja June 1, 2010 01:17 am

    Photography is an art which I would like to indulge in later in life. I'm just collecting enough money to buy a DSLR of my choice. But even without having a camera I can really appreciate this post. Very well written. I'm going to stumble it so that I can refer to it whenever I need the same and also so that other aspiring and amateur photographers can read this and make a note of the points made.

    Manish :)

  • MeiTeng June 1, 2010 01:03 am

    #3 is a very relevant point you've brought up. I have been guilty many times of not looking beyond the main attractions. Or even exploring another angle of view of the main attractions. Thanks for sharing.

  • Jen at Cabin Fever June 1, 2010 01:01 am

    Incredible photos and great advice. I simply wish to travel and have the opportunity to take photos like these! And thank you for sharing the links about artificial light. I am not very familiar with it and haven't really utilized it.

    NEK Photography Photo Blog

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