How to photograph your travels
Everything has started from travel photography. I've bought my first camera (Canon 550D old buddy) not to become a photographer. I just wanted to capture my travels in a better way than my phone could do that. I've fallen in love immediately. I've learnt some basics how to use my camera and I started taking my buddy for every journey. My love to travel photography is the same today.
I've always admired photographers from National Geographic. I think they are just amazing and their travel lifestyle is something what I've always wanted to have.
I've prepared the photography tips for you based on my personal travel experience, my good and bad photos taken during my trips.
Let's start with the equipment topic and then we'll speak about taking photos and capturing your travels to make it timeless.
Taking care of your equipment
Less is more
When you photograph a wedding you need to have a backup camera and you can bring with you even five lenses. But when you are going for a journey there is a great rule. Less is more.
If you have a mirrorless camera choose this one. The lighter the better.
Take one, maximum two lenses. The best option is to take zoom lens which will give you possibility to shoot wider and more narrow pics without changing lenses. In a full-frame camera the most universal and best option would be 24-70mm or 24-105mm. Lenses wider than 24mm are reserved for super wide shots, which in some experts' opinions are the great option for landscapes and travel photography. To be completely honest I have never been shooting wider than 24mm as I haven't needed to. If you like super wide shots you can take your second lens wider than 24mm. My favorite travel package is: Canon 24-70mm F/4L + Sigma Art 1.4 35mm. If I had to choose only one I would have dilemma, but I think it would be Sigma. I just love this lens and it's artsy look on pictures.
You will read in every photography book that a tripod needs to be really heavy. I've had two tripods in my life, one really heavy and one really light. I won't argue that a heavier tripod is worse, because it isn't true. It is more stable and protect camera from falling or move during windy weather. However, for me the most important is the rule: less is more. That's why I prefer taking much lighter tripod, even it's not that stable.
The truth is that if there isn't that windy you don't have to have a heavy tripod.
There should be a little hook hanging below your tripod. You can hang there e.g. backpack to make it more stable.
Currently I use really, really rarely a tripod. The reason is simple, I just prefer to be in constant movement and shoot things from different perspectives. I use a tripod in the following situations:
1. When there is not enough light to capture e.g. a landscape. It can be a sunrise or a sunset.
2. When I want to shoot something using a long exposure, e.g. a flowing river or I want to blur moving people.
3. When I want to shoot stars at night.
4. When I want to shoot selfie me with my girlfriend.
Protect your camera and lenses
Even if modern cameras are really, really persistent remember that they are not indestructible. You need to take care of your stuff, especially if you are going for a wilder adventure.
There are special tougher cases for cameras that you can buy in photo shops. They are much more persistent and can give your camera additional protection. They are often waterproof what is a high advantage. I have the one, but since I've bought a bigger camera it is too small for my new buddy. So that's why I use the second way:
I wrap my camera with a hoodie. If there is pouring I put my camera to the plastic bag and hide it deeply in my backpack.
If you have additional lenses don't forget about them and do the same.
If you shoot during rain there are few ways how to do that. Modern cameras should be waterproof, but you never know...
- Try to cover your camera. You can use an umbrella or a plastic bag.
- Keep your camera under your raincoat all the time and pull it out only when you want to shoot something.
I use the second way.
Use a fabric to clean your lens from dirt, water and fingerprints.
Use the UV filter. This is my first purchase after buying any lens. I don't move from home before putting UV filter on my lens. I'm not joking. The reason is simple. If you don't have filter UV and your camera will fall down you will break your lens worth often more than your car. No filter UV, no shooting.
To additionally protect your lens you can put on it a special hood. Be aware that each lens has a different hood.
When you change your lens try to find a place far away from dirt and wind and do it as quick as possible. Never leave your camera lying on the ground without any lens on it.
If you hold a camera in your hand, put a strip on your neck or wrap it around your wrist.
Always take an additional memory card. Another battery might be useful especially in winter. Remember that you camera loses power much quicker if there is cold outside. I don't recommend grips for travels, as it makes your backpack heavier. It's better to take just additional battery or a power bank and a charger.
You should know that if you enter a building and there is much difference in temperature, your camera will mist over and you cannot do anything with it as it happens inside the camera's body.
Keep a camera always close to you
Have your camera always close to you. If you put it to your backpack leave it on the top to have easy and fast access to it.
You can buy the special clasp designed for travel photographers. It is something what you can attach to your backpack's shoulder.
Photography application to make your life easier
There is one really good application which might help you in your travel. You can install it on your smartphone. It's called Exsate Golden Hour.
The application helps you in discovering when and where will be the sun during a sunrise, a sunset, blue hour or golden hour wherever you are. It can be super helpful especially if you hunt for an epic sunset. You can check it before leaving your home to know where you should be located to capture it.
Check the weather
Monitor the weather before your journey. If you don't want to focus on fighting with rain for your whole trip maybe you should postpone your travel.
Make the research about your travel location
Read and find as much information as you can. Inspire by other photographers' photos from this location. Type in Google: "The best photo shoot location in xxx" or "Sunset / Sunrise in xxx"
Shoot in RAW - Always
If you want you can shoot in both JPG + RAW, but never shoot only in JPG.
The reason is very simple. You have so much power to edit your photos using RAW instead of JPG. Exactly 10x more power e.g. to increase or decrease exposure without losing details.
Manual mode - Always
Don't shoot in Automated mode (the green one in Canon). I use full Manual mode (M), but you can start with P and then slowly change to the Aperture and Shutter mode (Av and TV).
Use a time trigger
...when you shoot on a tripod. It increases a chance that your photo won't be moved and blurred, especially when you shoot with long time exposure.
Use continues mode when photographing people or animals in movement
It is called AI Focus and AI Servo in Canon. Use one of these modes if you want to shoot something moving or you want to track the movement.
Shoot wider and more narrow frames
To make your story more interesting don't focus only on super wide landscape shots. Make it also more narrow! You can show the same thing in many different ways making it much more interesting. One of the way to do that is changing the focal length.
Experiment with focal point
The second way is experimenting with focal point. It means shooting with different apertures. You've captured a beautiful landscape and now change your aperture and shoot some details e.g. flowers, leaves, tree or any other subject. Blur your background changing your aperture as low as you can (in my Sigma it's F/1.4).
Use rule of thirds
It's the most common composition technique in photography where you divide your photo on nine identical rectangles. The rule of thirds tells that the best way to catch a viewer's attention is to put main subject in one of the linking rectangles' corners.
Don't use rule of thirds
Rules are made to be broken, right? Photograph experimenting in different ways.
Become an early bird and an owl
If you want to shoot epic landscapes and have beautiful pictures from your journeys you have to wake up really early and find your place before sunset. This rule refers to every journey you will have, no matter if you go to Barcelona or to Jumanji.
Golden hour is an hour after a sunrise and an hour before a sunset. It's the best time to shoot basically everything. The light is just stunning and everything glows like in a magic wonderland. This is also the best time to shoot portraits as the light is soft and beautiful.
Blue hour is an hour before sunrise and an hour after sunset. It's also very interesting light. But it's quite dark, so you will probably need a tripod or use higher ISO.
Would you like to make your photo journey something more than just pictures? Take notes about places where you photograph, about interesting facts, about culture, about nature, about your feelings in those moments. You can forget many things, so while taking a break pull out your notebook and make some notes. During creating your story add some interesting facts to your journey. Write something about it, add your emotions.
Think about your photography before going out from home
Make a plan what you want to visit. You journey starts when you leave your home, not after reaching a destination point. Start looking around from the beginning. You can start photographing even in a bus. Maybe there will be an interesting old lady who will add a cool detail to your story.
I've written much more about storytelling right here.
Add a human element
Landscapes are cool, but try to add a human to it. A landscape photo with a tiny person looks really cool!
HDR - Yes or No?
I've been there. I used it. Currently I don't use it at all. I know that there are fans of HDR photos, but it's not for me. I prefer a darker picture, but with really cool atmosphere, instead of an ideal exposed HDR photo looking like a frame from video game. It's my personal opinion. If you like HDR, go for it. You will find a lot of tutorials in the internet "How to make HDR photos". There is only one rule you should remember - never, ever shoot HDR portraits.
Feel the tradition and culture
Do you know what is the most exciting for me during discovering new places? Meeting new cultures, new people, new ways of living, new traditions, new environments.
Before your journey read about place you are going to visit. Meet their tradition, photograph their special food, clothes, habits or traditional dance.
Ask locals about cool places
Just ask them. Who if not them should know better. Ask maybe also about some wilder places, not so much popular by tourists.
Ok. I want to be honest here to not be hypocrite. It's something what I do really rarely, because I don't feel as much comfortable as I would like to. But this a cool option to add incredible value to your story. There are two ways to do that.
You can shoot while hiding.
You can just ask someone if you can make a portrait for him. It's really cool to show a person his or her photo and propose to send it on an e-mail. If you promise to send it, remember to do it.
Get lost. Be wild
Have you watched "Into the wild?" It's one of my favorite movie. If you are planning a journey watch it. Try new paths that people don't follow. Take a tent and decide to sleep in the forest instead of hotel.
Get lost. Don't follow paths what other people follow. Be wild!
Don't resign from taking pictures if the weather changes
If it starts raining don't be sad, that you need to resign from shooting. Call me crazy, but I prefer shooting in the rain. The atmosphere is unique.
Change your shooting plan if the weather starts being worse. Instead of shooting beautiful sunset you can focus on shooting mist in the forest, wet leaves or trees. The mood in the forest while raining is impossible to replace.
Take selfie with some locals or...animals. Photograph your walking shoes, your hand point the mountain or just use a tripod to photograph yourself.
Sometimes I come back to home from my trip with tone of pictures and while watching them I realize that I don't have any picture with myself.
Enjoy the moment
Don't focus only on shooting. Take your time, feel the place and travel slowly. Close your eyes and meditate. Then open them and look around. Have fun. Shoot silly photos. I just love taking silly pics. If you had seen any of my trip you would have found at least few super silly shots in each story. You know, even if creating good stories is really important goal for me, I don't have aspirations to become a number one National Geographic photojournalist. My goal is to create awesome photo stories from my travels and make it timeless. If I look at this story in few years time I want to have smile on my face and feel the same emotions like then. That's my main goal.
Summarising and gathering the most important things:
Take care of your equipment.
Don't carry too much lenses you don't need. Just take one or maximum two lenses that gives you possibility to shoot wider and more narrow shots. Less is more.
Protect your camera from the rain and bad weather conditions. You can use simple plastic bag.
Take a tripod if needed. I use a really light one.
Always use UV filters to protect your lenses.
Shoot in RAW and in Manual Mode (In Canon: P / Av / Tv / M)
Shoot during golden/blue hour. Download Exsate Golden Hour application.
Make research about the location you travel. Inspire by other photographers' work.
Shoot with different focal points and focal lengths.
Take notes about places you visit.
Add a human element to your landscape photo.
Photograph life, strangers, animals, nature, trees, flowers, details around you.
Remember about good storytelling.
Have fun, enjoy the moment and shoot silly photos.
Good luck! Have a wonderful trip and wild adventures!