One of my favourite things about travelling is capturing amazing foreign scenes amongst incredible cultures and environments! It could be a sensational landscape, a bustling city or the local people. Torture for me would be to travel without a camera! There is something about capturing a moment and making it timeless with your camera lens. It really is a rewarding experience.
However… Not all travel photography is good. I’ve seen some crazy things. I’ve seen people travel thousands of kilometres and trek for days to an ancient famous site, only to pull out their iPad and start taking photos. We spend a lot of time, money and energy travelling the world so, it’s important that the images you capture reflect not just the scenes you visit but also the emotion you feel and the culture that exists in some of the worlds most amazing places. So, I thought I would share my top tips for shooting great travel photos wherever you go:
1. This may seem simple *but* – ALWAYS carry your camera with you! It can be a pain, but you NEVER know what you will come across. There’s nothing worse than stumbling across some incredible scene and not having your camera with you! Find a comfortable day carry bag that fits your camera and everything else you need in it. This way you will be more inclined to take your camera everywhere you go as part of your essential pack.
2. Use a high ISO of at least 400. When travelling you often need to quickly capture something that suddenly happens in front of you and without warning. By having your camera set to a high ISO, you reduce the chance of blurry photos and can shoot quickly whilst on the move! You can even from a car, bus or train. Some of the best photos are captured out of the windows of moving vehicles!
Set the minimum shutter speed to 1/30th Sec. 1/30 is generally the slowest shutter speed that can be used for hand-held photos without a tripod. Even at 1/30th you will have to try to be as still as you can, but you can indeed get sharp photos (especially if you have an image stabilising lens). Any shutter speed slower than this… Forget it!
The other benefit of a 1/30 shutter speed is that it’s slow enough to capture motion by slightly blurring moving objects. It’s a great speed for taking hand-held photos of traffic or busy places at night where you want to capture a lot of movement.
A UV filter reduces glare, particularly in bright environments such as beaches or snow. However, the often overlooked benefit is it also protects your lens. When you travel, you are constantly putting your camera in dirty environments, or having to wipe off condensation after going from your air-conditioned hotel to the hot streets. With a UV filter, you can easily wipe the lens with your T-Shirt without worrying about damaging your lens.
A polarising filter is famous for making skies and water bright blue like a holiday advertisement, however it also has other benefits. A polarising filter reduces glare and reflection when shooting through glass such as a window. So often when travelling, you will be shooting out of bus windows, hotel windows, observation deck windows… You get my point! By using a polarising filter, you reduce the reflection on the window and get a clearer shot!
5. Shoot from the hip!
I’ve always been a bit shy taking photos of strangers, especially in foreign countries where you have to be aware of local customs and cultural nuances. If I don’t want my subject to know I’m taking a photo, I just shoot from my hip! I carry my camera over my shoulder and the strap length means it hangs about my waist. Some of the best people shots I have are taken from just turning my body towards my subject and subtly pressing the button. Don’t worry about perfect composition as sometimes you get fantastic creative angles from hip-shooting!
6. Burst Mode
Most cameras have a ‘burst mode’ that allows you to take several photos in rapid succession by holding down the capture button. This is very handy when you want to capture a moving subject or for night photography. For example, when shooting hand-held at night, not all your photos will be sharp as it’s difficult to stay still! However, with burst mode, one of your shots is guaranteed to be clear! Maybe not the first or the last – but usually one in between will be sharp!
7. Wide angle lenses
When people travel, they often think about zoom but not about wide-angle. A wide-angle lens of around 10mm but be an incredibly useful lens, particularly for shooting cityscapes. With a wide-angle, you can easily fit in that city skyscraper with the blue sky, or the sun reflecting off the tall temple spire. I carry a wide-angle, a mid-range and a telephoto lens with me so I’m always ready for whatever the situation.
8. Try not to create an album of selfies or photos with the same pose.
When travelling you always want to get a photo of yourself at whatever attraction you’re visiting. This is great! However it can be boring when you end up with 300 photos of you standing in the same pose and posture in front of different parts of the grand canyon. Think about your pose and try to be creative! Use the self-timer mode and balance your camera on a rock, a fence, anything you can find and get in to the scene. Try and take some candid photos of you ‘in’ the scene – looking and exploring the environment – not just standing in front of it in a ‘look I was here’ pose.
I have mixed emotions on the topic of selfies, but all I’ll say is… If you’re going to do it, do it well! Most people take selfies from their smart phone. This is fine as most smart phones have great cameras today. However… Remember that the front-facing camera is the WORST camera. It’s usually low resolution and has a terrible lens. If you want to take good selfies – but a ‘selfie-stick’ and use the front-facing camera on your phone!
10. Fill the frame!
Think carefully about composition. Always try to fill the frame! You want to include all the elements such as the sky, the foreground and the mountains, but you don’t want a whole frame of mostly sky. Zoom in and fill the viewfinder with interesting subjects. You can crop your photos afterwards, however it’s always best to start off with a great image!
11. Don’t forget to focus on the detail.
Often when you get to a famous site or a wonder of the world, the first reaction can be to capture it in its entirety. Hover try not to just do this as you will make all your images look like stock travel photography. Instead, focus on the detail. Pick an interesting small part of the scene and make that your subject… It often makes for much more interesting photos to compliment your collection!
12. Lighting & Timing
Lighting really is everything! If you can, arrange to visit sites early in the morning or late afternoon. This is when the sun produces a warm golden light allowing for beautiful photos. When the sun is lower in the sky (morning or afternoon), you also get longer shadows which creates more detail. Shooting at midday can produce flat looking images that are void of detail. If you have to shoot during the middle of the day, try and use the sun to your advantage by obscuring it behind a building or behind the fronds of a palm tree. Create some interesting lighting effects and work with the bright sun, rather than trying to capture entire postcard-like scenes in bright light.
13. Overcast Days
A lot of people think that the light isn’t as strong on overcast days. In fact, the light produced by cloud cover can be brighter than sunny conditions and can trick your camera’s exposure meter underexposing your photos. If you’re shooting on a bright overcast day, use ‘Exposure Compensation’. This is usually the ‘EV’ button/setting. Experiment with setting it to +1/2 or +1. The same applies to bright environments like white sand beaches or snow that reflect a lot of light.
14. Embrace the Night
A lot of people think that once the sun sets, it’s over for landscape photography. In fact, some of the best cityscapes are taken at night when the city comes to life with artificial light and movement. You’re no longer limited by the weather, and can shoot come great street scenes and indoor photos. Combining the movement of traffic headlights with a fixed landmark always created an interesting and dynamic image.
15. Spend time away from the lens
As I mentioned above, always take your camera with you! However, make sure you spend time just appreciating the scene you’re in and be present. There’s no point visiting an incredible destination and seeing it through your camera and not appreciating the mood, smells, sounds, and culture. Take time to put your camera down, sit back and enjoy the moment!
Check out my Top Photos From Around the World Gallery for more inspiration.
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