Travel Photography Simplified: 4 Changes that Made me a Better Photographer


When I look back and analyze how my photography has changed over time, I see that the last couple of years were the most eventful in regards to the evolution of my photography. I see that rapid advances in technology, in combination with my attempts to simplify various aspects of my photography, gradually changed my entire workflow.

Images Travel Photography Simplified 01

If I had to identify the key moments that triggered the rest of the changes, my switch from DSLR to a mirrorless system would be at the very top of the list.

1. Mirrorless Setup

Depending on the type of photography, the switch to a mirrorless system affects photographers differently. As a travel photographer, the effect of the change was huge for me, and even though the learning curve was steep, it was liberating from the very beginning.

The compactness of mirrorless systems was the most obvious factor for the switch. Here is the breakdown of my camera, plus lenses setup:

  • Sony A6000 (344g, 12oz)
  • Sony 10-18mm (220g, 8oz)
  • Sony 16-70mm (308g, 11oz)
  • Total: 874g (31oz)

It’s hard to believe that a high-quality, wide angle zoom lens (10-18mm) can weigh only 220g (8oz). The full set, including the camera and two lenses that cover 90-95% of my needs, weighs less than 900g (32oz). I call it freedom.

Images Travel Photography Simplified 02

From a practical standpoint, it actually means that I can pack the entire setup into a carry-on when traveling by plane. It also means that I do not have to think about what equipment to bring when packing for a demanding hike. Instead, I bring everything with me.

The other two factors of my switch that impacted my photography were the amazing dynamic range of the Sony sensor and its EVF (Electronic Viewfinder). The extended dynamic range of the sensor allows me to reduce the number of brackets I have to take, to cover the entire dynamic range of the scene. Also, it saves me time editing, since I do not have to use HDR, and Image Blending techniques, as often as before.

The Electronic Viewfinder also allows me to more accurately assess the scene before taking the shot and, as a result, reduces the number of unsuccessful shots.

Images Travel Photography Simplified 03

2. Changing Travel Routine

I did not expect that one small change to my travel routine would impact my photography so much. So what was the change? I simply stopped editing photos while traveling. Instead, I began concentrating all my efforts on finding interesting locations and capturing them – nothing else. This new focus makes my trips more enjoyable, reduces stress, and improves my photography in general.

Before, I always loaded all of the new photos at the end of the day to Lightroom using my laptop. While checking the day’s results, I would often start culling and editing.

Now, when I want to check if a shot is successful, I can do it while shooting, simply by wirelessly connecting my camera with my tablet. And, if it is absolutely necessary to post a couple of new photos to social media, I can edit them in seconds using Snapseed on my tablet, then easily post them online.

Images Travel Photography Simplified 04

3. Simplified Backup System

Keeping photos safe while traveling is a big issue for any photographer. Up until recently, there was no reliable enough solution for a photographer, like myself, to go on an extended photography trip without bringing a laptop. For years, a laptop was the center of my backup strategy while traveling, which only added unnecessary bulk to my setup.

Finally, I think this is starting to change. For the last few months I’ve been testing a laptop-less travel approach, and I am confident that a new setup this year will completely replace my outdated backup system.

This new workflow is possible because of a device that was recently released: WD My Passport Wireless. The device has a variety of interesting features, but the most important one, from a photography standpoint, is the SD Memory Card Reader. When you insert a memory card into the reader, it automatically backs up all the contents of the card to the drive. Plus, it supports incremental backups, which means that it backs up only new files rather than those previously transferred.

Images Travel Photography Simplified 05

Photo courtesy Western Digital

This device makes it possible to travel without a computer. Also, it minimizes the risk of losing images due to memory card failure. Now, I incrementally backup my new images multiple times throughout the day, and by the end of the day back at the hotel, I already have all of my new images on two devices.

Another feature of the WD My Drive Wireless that excites me as a photographer, is its ability to connect to the drive with a mobile app and grab any photos (JPEGs only) for editing.

Images Travel Photography Simplified 06

4. Rapid Editing

Lightroom is my primary photography editing tool. At some point, I realized that 80% of my editing steps were identical for every photo. This meant that only 20% of my efforts were spent on what really mattered: making every photo unique. I also recognized that if I could automate the 80%, then I could drastically reduce the time I spend in front of the computer.

The obvious choice for editing automation was Lightroom’s preset functionality. The presets allow users to record their editing steps in Lightroom for later use.

The main obstacle in developing and implementing a new system was Lightroom’s presets limitations. You have probably already noticed that it is rare when you apply one of the presets to a photo that are happy with the final results. You still have to dive deeper into the Lightroom editing tools to compensate for the level of exposure, lighting conditions, shadows, and the dynamic range of the scene.

I solved this problem by introducing a two-level editing system which I call Lightroom Rapid Editing. I separated my Lightroom presets into two categories:

Style Presets: The presets that establish the artistic style and reflect our creative vision. For example, a dreamy, warm look or an aggressive and contrasted style, soft black & white or a vibrant cross processed treatment.

Images Travel Photography Simplified 07

Adjustment Presets: The presets that do affect the style of the photograph but help us to fine-tune the following parameters: exposure, shadow recovery, contrast, clarity, vignetting. I called the collection of the adjustment presets the TOOLKIT.

Images Travel Photography Simplified 08

This is how my workflow looked after I implemented the two level preset system:

First, I applied one of the Style Presets. Then, I used the Adjustment Presets from the TOOLKIT to fine tune the image. Simple, effective, and automated. The Lightroom Rapid Editing System reduced my editing time by more than half and made my photography more consistent.

Here is a quick demonstration:

For the demonstration, I selected a photo of Niagara Falls (American and Bridal Veil Falls). The scene was somewhat challenging as the water of the falls, was much brighter than the rest of the scene. I intentionally set exposure for the brightest areas, making sure I preserved enough details in the water. It resulted in an underexposed capture, making it more challenging to edit.

Images Travel Photography Simplified 09

First, I applied one of my favorite presets from the Landscape Collection – Natural. Second, I used the following TOOLKIT adjustments (Adjustment Presets):

  • 01 Exposure +
  • 08 Open Shadows ++
  • 17 Clarity ++
  • 31 Vignetting +

Here is the result. It took me five clicks, and no more than two minutes to complete the editing. To record my editing steps for future reference and easy sharing, I used Lightroom Rapid Editing Formula: Natural (02, 08, 17, 31).

Images Travel Photography Simplified 10

Read a more detailed explanation of my travel photography workflow here: Photo Editing Workflow for Travel Photography


I believe that simplification is the key factor in mastering any complex process. If you reject unnecessary complexity by drastically simplifying it, you can invest more time and effort into what really matters. The changes I listed above did not happen overnight but they were always driven by the desire to simplify my photography.

How have you simplified your photography? Share with us in the comments below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Viktor Elizarov is a travel photographer and educator from Montreal, Canada. He travels around the world and shares his experiences on his popular travel photography blog. Visit Tutorials section of his blog for free tutorials (including original raw files) and free Lightroom presets.

  • bskier7

    I’m very intrigued by the Adjustment Presets you’ve created. Is the ‘+’ or ‘-‘ some arbitrary incremental change for any given setting that you’ve determined?

  • They are mostly arbitrary, only in exposure each increment corresponds to 1/3 EV

  • bskier7

    Thanks. It seems like a very controlled way to manipulate the sliders. I’ve used a preset by Trevor Dayley that I like for a quick improvement upon import but it works best with images with good lighting. Once you get into night shots or ones with interesting lighting it doesn’t work very well.

  • Yach

    Mirrorless for travel has a huge drawback : battery life. Of course it depends on your kind of travelling, but if you don’t often have access to a reliable and fast electricity source, you’ll end up taking no photos at all.

    I took my full frame DSLR with a couple of primes and 70-200 f/4 zoom in backpack travel in Iceland, and I did the whole trip (10 days) with only 4 batteries fully charged, never having to recharge them during the trip.

    That’s a huge advantage for some kind of travels.

  • Christos

    Good tips! Thanks for the article.

  • Mark

    With regards this statement “Up until recently, there was no reliable enough solution for a

    photographer, like myself, to go on an extended photography trip without
    bringing a laptop.” I have to disagree.

    Devices for backing up photographic cards (MS, SD, CF etc) have been around for at least a decade. Essentially they were a laptop harddrive in a case with a card reader and a display to show copy progress, space remaining etc. More advanced ones had a colour screen. WD’s effort is nothing new and, frankly given the performance of their energy efficient green drives, I’m not sure I’d want to trust any of their consumer kit with backup duties.

    B&H video offer plenty of options including some case-only that could have a solid state disk installed which would be more reliable than a spinning drive and offers the option of using an enterprise drive should you wish.

  • ItIsMe1979

    I have the exact same set up as the author and I don’t experience any more trouble with battery life than I did with my DSLR. I keep two charged back ups with me all the time and it’s more than enough for 12 hour days shooting.
    Having the lighter and smaller camera is a blessing for long haul travel and two extra batteries in my bag are not a big deal. I recharge them at night while I’m sleeping.
    And the picture quality and ease of editing is fantastic. That’s a huge advantage for all kinds of travels.

  • Bonnie Handshuh Garely

    I don’t have a mirrorless, but I can tell you that your article was so helpful in many ways. Especially , the lightroom presets part. I really try to get it right in the camera for less editing and get away from my computer more. thank you!

  • Wade

    I will still continue to hike and travel with my DSLR and equipment (the weight is my workout routine 🙂 ). I started leaving my laptop behind about two years ago and while on the road have my iPad handy and use Snapseed to edit a couple of shots here and there for social media. It even works to import RAW images. I do like the idea of the HD that automatically backs up when a card is inserted and that will be my next purchase. I’ve been fortunate enough to never have lost or damaged a memory card but I imagine that could happen at any time. Thanks for the article.

  • drdroad

    I’m astonished you do 90% of your photography with the longest lens being 70mm. Just yesterday when I was shooting late in Downtown Tucson I’d say at least a third of my images I had my 24-240 Sony lens at over 100. Using my Monopod I was shooting at as slow as 1/10, but because this lens is so much smaller than the one I had on my DSLR I got very sharp images. Also, having nothing to do with processing images, can’t imagine being anywhere too long without my laptop.

  • dude II

    Taking the equivalent of a WD Passport device on trips is not new. I use a 2005 era Wolverine Flashpac device instead of carrying around a laptop. Over the last 10 years it has been on nearly opposite sides of the planet (New Zealand – Scotland) and has yet to fail.
    I do not shoot for travel magazines as such, so when I am on vacation I do not need to have a laptop around to distract me. I have found that in order to deal with things like email and such, it is easier to use hotel computers or internet cafes. However, on my next trip (several weeks in Europe) I will be taking a laptop and a stack of blank DVD’s.

  • Peter Florczak

    Very well done article. I have the Sony A6000 and the NEX-6. Both cameras are so light that I usually bring both of them on my trips. That way I don’t have to change lens. I have been thinking about purchasing the 16 to 70mm, but the cost ($1000) and the reviews have stopped me. I am not happy with the kit 16-50mm so I wind up using either the 16mm or the 55 to 200mm. Does anyone have thoughts on the 16 to 70? Any input would be appreciated as I have an upcoming trip in the planning.

  • I’ve been using 16-70mm for more than a year and I love it. It is my go to lens for my travels.
    Here I have a RAW file available for download I took with A6000+16-70mm so you can check the quality:

  • Peter Florczak

    Nice shot. I could definitively live with that. Thanks, there really are not many choices for quality lens for that camera. I’ll start looking for a good deal on that lens so I can get used to it before my next trip.

  • Frank

    Question 1: When I use the SD card input with my Nikon on my WD My Passport Wireless, I capture lots of files that aren’t “.jpg” or “,nef” files. How and when do you get rid, or not, of these files on the WD dirve to make it easier to get at the picture files for editing. Question 2: Is there a clean way to transfer files from the WD to Lr mobile and back for editing? I’d just as soon invoke a mobile editor,

  • Kenneth Ellseth

    gotta ask, is these pictures HDR? cus the detail in shadow area is outstanding, I own a D7100 and its awesome but I cant get anywhere near this and have to do HDR.

  • I shoot with a D7100 and try to avoid HDR where possible (to save time and I will always prefer to shoot hand-held than with a tripod wherever possible) and the shadow recovery of the D7100 from a RAW file astounds me.

    Not sure what software you use, but I use Lightroom and just pushing up the shadows while pulling back the highlights gives similar results I find. Not one of my best photos, but possibly a decent example of this with the D7100

    Also have a look through the Iceland gallery under Travel.

  • Martin Chroust-Masin

    Helo Mr. Elizarov. I would like to know where was the picture taken of the place on the top fotograph of the canyon. The place is absolutely stunning.

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