I guess many of you have read dozens of articles about travel photography. Many read them because they want to know the sort of gears travel photographers used. Well, why not if you are a novice and want to know what equipment to take and with what during your precious trip away from home right? There are also a few who are interested in travel photography in a more ‘pictorial’ sense. That means those who want to take better travel photographs that can highlight your experience during your holiday.
I am writing this blog with a few tips from my experience. I have been a wedding/portrait photographer for a few years now but I love my travel too. If you are fanatic about your photography, why not extend your skills and use your equipment when you are travelling right? So I do.
In fact, I was attracted to photography during my first road trip with a few of my university friends to Wales in the United Kingdom. At that time, I had only a film point and shoot camera when three of my trip buddies who all had SLRs. I was never bother too much to start with until I saw their photos after they were processed. Even with film, I could see the difference in image quality. The customisation you could apply to each exposure meant that you could control the end results too, something that my point and shoot couldn’t do. I was fascinated. I saved some money and bought my first SLR, the Canon EOS 50E a year later and I had been shooting ever since.
So in truth, I can say that I got in touch of proper photography from travelling. Many people will experience the same thing. 80 percent of my friends started photography because they wanted to take better pictures during their holidays. Then things would just evolve depending on individual experience and preference. Never under estimate the power of travel photography though. Unless you are an art students or photography undergraduate, you are unlikely to encounter more photographic experience than traveling.
One of the main reasons for anyone to ‘want’ to capture nice photographs when they are travelling is the experience in DIFFERENCES from your normal life. Even travelling to a local park is getting out of your working routine, so you can imagine how different it is when you are travelling to a different town, city or even abroad. Before I continue this blog, I must first separate the genes of travel photography (at least the genes for me): Street, Landscape/Cityscape, Portrait. Each of these genes are totally different and can dictate the gear you use or take during your trip.
In short, street photography is something you may want to concentrate on when you are traveling and to me it is the easiest and the most interesting. This is particularly suitable when you are travelling to a place where there’re lots of actions going on, such as busy shopping areas, markets or performances. Landscape/Cityscape is defined mostly on still objects such as lake, mountain or buildings and bridges. Lastly, portrait photography will mainly focus on people directly. This is useful when you are in a place with lots of culture. Even better if the people are all in their traditional costumes.
What TO DO and NOT TO DO
STREET – If you are the type who like to remember what you have experienced during your holiday, then the streets you walked must be where you want to remember. The people, the atmosphere, the buzz, all the actions from markets you’ve visited… opportunities are countless. I love photographing markets and people’s bargaining reactions. I also pay attentions to general people. During my trip in Paris earlier this year, I wanted to capture the romance of couples, the joy and relax side of French culture. I sometimes go close to people or shooting from far. If I know the situation can be obtrusive, then I will use a longer zoom to photograph but any real sense of movement or action is something you will get when shooting up close with your subject(s). You also want to capture the natural moments rather than posing photos so you need to be fairly discrete. A smaller camera set up is ideal. I tend to use my Leica or if SLR, use a smaller primes such as a 35mm f/2. Some people lugging a giant zoom lens may be a bit too much and will definitely attract unnecessary attention. Also, if you want to be discrete, wear black or dark colours too.
- Use a slightly wider angle lens or focal length to capture action. In full frame cameras, it’s either 24mm or 35mm. I personally like 35mm.
- Use a tele range to capture discrete moments of people’s reaction. In full frame cameras, that’s 70mm or longer. This focal length also helps to create shallower depth of field so you can isolate your subjects from the rest.
- Don’t be afraid to get close or let people know that you are photographing them. That’s how you capture their glance. This also shows a much punchier picture.
- When using wide angle lens, depth of field is much deeper and zone focus is good, you may wish to switch to manual focus and set to 2 to 3m if you are to get close to a crowd. Some cameras have face detection and may focus to closest person and makes the rest of the frame slightly out of focus and you will miss the main action.
- Be patient.
LANDSCAPE/CITYSCAPE – Most people will normally start their photography from this gene. They are still objects and scenery that won’t move. Photographing landmarks also helps remembering the places you’ve been too so this is probably the first thing you will take when you are travelling. However, taking good landscape or cityscape require planning, careful camera settings and more set up. One thing not to do is do what other tourists do, stand straight and shoot. That’s boring because that’s what you will see from your friends. You need to do the exact opposite, if they are standing up, you kneel down, they shoot straight on, you turn the camera to involve some angles. This takes a while to accustom to but this is how you will train your creativity. Once mastered, you will see your photos are much better than others. Good planning will also make a big difference in the final result. For instance, you want to photograph sunset of the city but if you don’t know where the sun light is shining, you may get a totally different or even wrong affect.
- Use a wide angle lens. If you are serious about landscape photography (during travel), you should get a high quality wide angle lens. Edge to edge sharpness, distortion-free, detail resolution is ultimate for getting every bit of the scene.
- Use a tripod to minimise any movement and squeeze out every bit of the sharpness from your high resolution camera. Get a remote release too.
- Use a polariser filter to get rid of the unwanted reflection and enhance contrast and colour saturation. Reflection is something you can’t do during post processing, so you need to get it right the first time.
- Use gradual filter to enhance the exposure of your shot. Most landscape shot will involve mountain, lake or something in front of the bright sky. It is key to get the perfect exposure for both the sky and your foreground. This type of filter will help you darken the sky and expose the foreground correctly.
- Use a tele for city. You will never find it so fund to spot details of the buildings. You may find something rather unusual.
- If you have money to spare, try a fisheye lens for city. They will give you a totally different perspective.
PORTRAIT – This is probably by far the most difficult one to do. First people are more conscious about you taking photo of them or even their partners or kids. In some places, it’s becoming illegal too! Since I am a people’s photographer, I love photographing faces. My last trip to China allowed me to take lots of photos of people’s faces, particularly in rural villages. I loved it. However, I had to ask for permission in cities such as Hong Kong these days. 99% of the time I would get rejected but I did get some rather good ones once I gained their permission.
To photograph strangers’ faces, you need to be ‘thick’ faced. Not to be afraid of asking people for their permissions (unless you want to take your chances. I had an experience when I wanted to photograph a someone playing and got told off big time). So be prepared. However, things are a whole lot easier when you are in any developing countries. Small villagers love to be photographed. I came across some parents with their babies and they actually asked me to photograph them, can you believe it?
- Ask permission
- Be patient
- Don’t be afraid to go up to people and talk to them. You need to communicate with them and get their personalities out. they will show on the photos. Better communication = better photo.
- Try to focus on their faces, a close up or at maximum a half-body shot is great unless there’re some interesting surrounding that tells the story.
- Don’t use huge lenses as they may offend or scare people.
These are my simple rules that come from my experience during my travels. I am happy to hear your thoughts and share your tips too. Just relax and don’t forget to enjoy your holiday too! You have to enjoy your photography as much as your holiday. Like any holiday though, planning is everything! Do your background reading and research will help you get the most from your holiday!