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Most prospective travel photographers find out very early on in their careers that travel photography is very different to taking photographs when you travel. As a travel photographer, your absolute focus has to be on taking photos, and nothing else comes above that. Tiredness, hunger, boredom, and time with loved ones are sacrificed while you are on the road, so that you can maximize your time, and achieve the best possible photographs.
Here are some of the skills needed to be a professional travel photographer.
The reality is that the majority of the time when you are on the road, you will be pushed for time, and even more so if there are unforeseen circumstances like delays or poor weather. To ensure that you can maximize your time in each location, you have to plan as much as possible for every trip. Start off by creating a detailed shot list, then break down your trip day by day, and even hour by hour. Work out the direction of light at different times of the day, and think about the best time to photograph. If you are photographing somewhere or something that has been photographed a lot, browse through stock image libraries at what already exists, and think how you can make your shot unique. Remember to always have a back-up plan in case you have a poor weather day.
Every little detail that you can pre-plan will enable your time to be used more efficiently while you are away.
As a travel photographer, you have to be able to hit the ground running as soon as you reach your destination, so the ability to settle in quickly to a new place is a must. There’s no time for culture shock or jet lag, even though that is not always easy if you are in a new place, and travelling alone. The only way to combat this is to practice, and the more places that you experience, the greater confidence you will acquire in new environments.
Landscapes, cityscapes, portraits, sport, food, close-ups… the list goes on. As a travel photographer, you have to have a basic knowledge of how to photograph everything, and be confident in doing so. That doesn’t mean you have to be an expert (very few photographers are) but you need to have these skills so that you have variety, and capture a set of images that portray a destination at its best.
A travel photographer has to be patient when it’s needed, but you will also need lightning quick reflexes, and you need to know your camera inside out. Sometimes, you only get one chance to capture a fleeting moment that presents itself, so you have to be able to take it. You need a good understanding of the technical elements of photography such as lighting, shutter speed, and depth of field, alongside creative skills such as composition. On top of all of that you will need to put it all together in a split second. The only way to achieve this is to practice, so that it eventually becomes second nature to you.
A majority of time, the difference between a good photo and a great photo, is simply the composition. Add a person walking into a scene, and it suddenly comes alive, where before it looked ordinary. You have to be able to look at a scene, critique it in your mind, and ask yourself how you can make it look better. A technique that I like to use is to imagine where that photo might be used. Is it going to be in a double page spread in a magazine? If so, do I place my point of interest on the left or right? Try to get into the habit of making every shot you take your best.
Travel photography is about capturing different cultures, and big part of that are the people. You need to be able to move beyond any shyness, and build connections with people quickly, even if you don’t speak their language. It is incredible how receptive and friendly people are when you make the effort to talk to them – especially when they find out you are from a different country.
Unfortunately, travel photography is a lonely and solitary occupation, and the only way to ensure you can maximize your time and creative output, is to travel alone. That’s because your only priority on any trip should be to ensure you are at the right place, at the right time, all the time, to capture the best photo possible. Anything else will compromise your ability to be totally focused on the task at hand.
As a travel photographer, you have to be willing to search for hours for your next photo opportunity, while at the same time, having the patience to wait, once you have found what you’ve been looking for. It’s very rare to turn up to a scene and have everything in place for the perfect photo, so the majority of time you have to be willing to wait. That could be minutes, or hours, and sometimes days, which means having to come back again and again until you capture the perfect photo.
You’ve just spent three hours hiking up a hill and waited for sunset, only to find a thick blanket of white cloud has made the scene completely dull and now you have a three hour hike back down in the dark to look forward to. There’s no doubt that sometimes travel photography can be incredibly frustrating, which in turn can leave you feeling down and disappointed, but unfortunately there is no time to dwell on it. You just have to pick yourself up and go again, even if that means hiking back up the hill for a second time. You need to train yourself to always be optimistic about tomorrow; after all, you never know what photo opportunities will present themselves.
It probably goes without saying, that to be a travel photographer you need to love to travel. While most people love going on vacation, not everyone enjoys travelling. There is no time for sunbathing by the pool, or spending an afternoon sitting in a bar. It’s all about experiencing things, and finding those unique moments that capture the story.
Travel photography is a very lonely, tiring and high-pressure profession. But it is also an incredibly exciting, and rewarding branch of photography, which can really make you see and experience a destination more than the average tourist. To succeed you’ll need all the skills above, and more!
What skills do you think you need to be a travel photographer? Share your tips, experiences, ideas and travel iamges below.