- 1 The Creative Part:
- 2 1. Rest And State Of Mind
- 3 2. Accommodation And Networking
- 4 3. Get Closer To People
- 5 4. Avoid Clichès
- 6 5. Look Behind You
- 7 6. Break The Rules
- 8 7. There Is No Genre In Travel Photography
- 9 8. Vantage Points
- 10 9. Be smart about the light
- 11 10. No Excuses
- 12 11. Think Like Your Audience
- 13 12. Have Fun
- 14 The Functional Part:
- 15 13. Bring Proper Gear
- 16 14. Know Your Gear
- 17 15. Spare Gear
- 18 16. Theft
- 19 Research
- 20 23. Be Prepared For The Local Culture
- 21 24. Keep A Journal Or A Travel Log
- 22 25. Damage
- 23 26. Be Prepared For The Weather
- 24 27. Acclimation
As photographers, we love to travel, explore new places, and find beautiful hidden areas in the world.
It is a dream come true for us photographers really.
However, traveling isn’t all fun and games, especially when you are dragging a bunch of gear for your passion of photographing on your trips to new lands.
But fear not, if you are organized well and are careful enough (something that I assume you already are by nature), you’ll have no issues tackling and managing your photography gear on the road.
I’ll tackle this “issue” so to speak in two sections, the creative part and the functional part.
The Creative Part:
One of the hardest things to do while traveling is to stay creative.
Even though this might sound counterintuitive, it really is true.
Perhaps it’s mostly due to jet lag, being tired from the long road and so forth. Another thing that might affect your creativity and the ability to take great shots is the excitement of the new places and cultures that you will be experiencing.
1. Rest And State Of Mind
The reality of the situation is that traveling is usually tiresome. Oftentimes you’ll find yourself traveling to your destination for more than 20 hours - in that state, all your brain wants is the pillow. Don’t force yourself to take pictures by overdosing on caffeine. Get some sleep, rest well, tomorrow is a brand new day. In all of my travel excursions I’ve done, on the days where I was tired and sleep deprived, my photos came out below average (by my standards). I would only notice this when I would go through my archive retrospectively, on my last trip I’ve decided to photograph when I’m well rested and not to force anything. And I must say that the results were much better. I was happier while shooting, had more energy thus was able to think more clearly, and the results were definitely better. I took fewer shots, but many were ‘keepers’.
2. Accommodation And Networking
While you are traveling, make sure that your accommodation is good, since you’ll need that good night sleep, and it would be nice if it had a great view or if it was situated somewhere where you can meet some of the local folks in order to gain some insider information about the place. That being said, don’t be shy to greet some random local folks on the street, you’ll be surprised about the information you can gain from them.
3. Get Closer To People
While we are at networking, making friends abroad, and keeping the contact with them is quite important. You never know when you’ll end up in the same city again, and having those people there can be of great help. Whether it is last minute accommodation, or help finding your way around, having a network of friends around the world is priceless.
The only way to do this is by being a people's person. Introduce yourself to people, communicate, take some pictures, exchange e-mails so they can get some photos that you took and so forth.
4. Avoid Clichès
Don’t be the “I must have a photo of the Eiffel Tower no matter what” photographer. If you want to have a photo of the Eiffel Tower, so be it, but do something that hasn’t been done before. Make a picture that nobody has made before, create something new, something different. Yes, many of the landmarks have been photographed from every possible angle ever, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do something new and different, it just means that you’ll need to be more creative than everybody else before. A bit hard, but every challenge will do you good as a photographer since you need to train yourself to think outside the box.
If I may continue with the Eiffel Tower example: if you are in Paris for the sole reason to photograph the tower itself, then you have probably failed as a photographer. Every place you travel has tons of places which you can photograph under so many different conditions. Don’t limit yourself to just the mainstream stuff, find a hidden gem, something that is not that widely known and make it visible to the public. Be the icebreaker for the things that have been forgotten about a place that you are visiting - this will increase your own exposure as well as the exposure that the place gets. Win-win.
5. Look Behind You
How often do you throw a glance behind you while you are photographing some place? We humans are programmed to move forward and never look back, which may work generally, but when it comes to photography it means that you miss out on at least 50% of the scenes. Always do a full 360 view before you change a location, because if you don’t, you are potentially missing out on the best shot in your life. Or at least several keepers.
6. Break The Rules
I hope that you’ve learned the photography rules so far, at least the basic ones. Well, if you know the rules, you know how to break them. Do it, don’t hesitate. You can always take one shot within the rules and one that breaks them. You’ll often see that the pictures where you’ve broken the rules for the sake of the interesting stuff turn out to be the better pictures. Rules are meant to be broken, you just need to know how.
7. There Is No Genre In Travel Photography
Most people get fixated on one photography genre while doing travel photography (usually landscapes or city scapes), however, you’ll probably do better if you photograph everything. Take in the culture, experience, surroundings, and everything else. Shoot street, city, architecture, conceptual, and everything else that you can think of. Creativity has no limit, do whatever you think that you can do and make it look good. You are a photographer, you shouldn’t be limited by genres and boundaries, since those don’t apply to you.
Basically, you can do loads of things while traveling, for example:
Shoot light trails
Shoot some street shots
Shoot architecture (indoor and outdoor)
Try out HDR in difficult light conditions
8. Vantage Points
Getting on higher ground (whether it is a building or a hill) will give you a great vantage point for panoramic shots and maybe for doing some cityscapes in both daylight and after dark. You can find spots like this in every city, usually spots like this are built in order to attract tourists, but you can use them to make epic shots. Of course you’ll need to find an alternative angle in order to make a picture that haven’t been made before, but that shouldn’t be a problem.
Additionally if you have the time, you can go hiking with a local guide, they know the place inside out. Using a guide, you can get to places which aren’t well known and will provide you with unique opportunities.
9. Be smart about the light
Get up early, plan your day properly in order to be able to visit more places without wasting too much time and energy on trivia. Being up early is important since you get the angular light during the morning, adding some drama to your shots, then you have the angular light again during sunset as well therefore you have great light 2 times in one day, instead of one if you oversleep.
As mentioned before, use the golden hours and the blue hours properly, you can improve your travel photography game like that if you are smart enough.
10. No Excuses
Lastly, you are a photographer. Meaning that you are a creative person who can’t be stopped by any force on the planet. Excuses don’t go well for you. Don’t make them, don’t use them. Go out and shoot. There is nothing that can stop you.
If you plan everything properly, and if you have backup for every backup, there won’t be a situation that will stop you from taking photos, and being what you want to be, a great photographer. If you are smart about it, you won’t have the need for excuses, if you find yourself making excuses, you did something wrong along the way.
11. Think Like Your Audience
When you are traveling you are basically doing two things. You are photographing your trip, and you are photographing for your portfolio. When you are photographing your trip for yourself, you can do whatever you want. When you are photographing for your portfolio (whether it is stock photo, or your personal store and so forth) you have to follow the trends and listen to the audience, and have all that in mind while traveling. That is the key to success.
12. Have Fun
I am aware that all this looks like way too much work, but once you organize yourself well it is not that hard. All these skills will come naturally after a short while. At the end of the day, have some time for yourself, have some fun, it will keep you motivated for the next day.
Additionally, while we are talking about having fun, many countries and cultures have certain events that are one in a lifetime experiences. For example, the festival of colors in India, or the carnivals in Rio. Wherever you are traveling, make sure you are aware of events like that so you can visit them as well.
The Functional Part:
13. Bring Proper Gear
I see many photographers going traveling with just one lens and body. While that might be more convenient, it will limit you quite a lot. If you are smart enough you’ll cover your focal range properly with several lenses which will allow you to have the proper focal length for each scenario; this will help you make the most out of the trip. Now, it might be a bit burdensome to haul all that equipment, but on the other hand, the quality images you create can pay for the trip back, and maybe you could even sell the photos along the way and earn some extra cash. The better the images are, the more you gain, monetarily and credibility wise.
14. Know Your Gear
Of course, all the gear in the world won’t help you if you don’t know how to use it. Don’t bother bringing stuff that you aren’t comfortable using. You need to know your gear like the back of your hand in order to be efficient and productive. The learning curve for your gear stays at home, on the road you should be ready and quick to capture everything and anything, there is no time for learning there, at least not for the gear you are using.
15. Spare Gear
Things get broken, lost, and stolen. It is really wise to have spare gear on standby just so you don’t end up without any gear to work with. I am aware that you probably won’t be able to bring a spare 5D Mark 3 or a 70-200mm f/2.8. But at least have a spare body and a general lens, just in case. Of course, you can have loads of spare batteries, SD cards, and everything proprietary which doesn’t cost a fortune. Batteries and SD cards are often the deal breakers on travels since you don’t have enough time to charge the batteries nor the means to dump the photos from the SD cards. That is why there is no overkill when it comes to batteries and SD cards. It is wise to have a laptop with you as well, just so you can do some quick edits for social media posts, and a place to backup your shots from the SD cards (in case of damage and stuff).
Theft is a really big problem when it comes to traveling. By the time you realize that your gear has been stolen, it is already too late. As a foreigner you’ll need more time to contact the police, the police will need more time to take your statement, and it will be more complicated to get your gear back if the police apprehends the perpetrator. That is why it is wise to protect yourself from theft in the first place. For example, never leave your backpack in the car, or in the lockers on the bus/train stations. Have it with you at all times. When you are moving around be aware of your surroundings and always be used to the weight of your backpack, thus you’ll be able to feel if there is a weight shift on the backpack (in case somebody removes something). When you have your camera around your neck, always have your hand over the lens and the body so if somebody tries to dismount the lens, you’ll feel it.
Make sure that you aren’t distracted by people in crowds: this is the usual strategy when it comes to pick pockets. Your attention is elsewhere (usually one or two people asking you questions, while a third person is robbing you), and that makes you an easy target.
Do the research on the places you are about to visit. There are always hidden gems and places which aren’t on the tourist maps. Those are the places you want to visit. Best way to do this is to contact locals, and you can do that via the social media, or sites like Couchsurfing.com.
There are always people who want to meet people from different cultures, so that is something you should definitely do. Besides experiencing the culture first hand, you’ll get information from the locals for places which aren’t conventional, potentially providing the conditions for creating some very unique shots. Couchsurfing or similar social mediums and networking sites for travelers can aid you in the research. People out there are all for meeting new people and helping theme experience their country, and that is exactly what you need.
Additionally you can use the internet (of course), but when you do, be smart about it. Everybody can get the general information, you need to dig a bit deeper. Local blogs, and blogs about the places you are going to visit are also a great source of information on hidden gems.
Most of the cities (especially the larger ones) have tourist guide apps for smartphones. Usually they use GPS to feed you information on nearby areas which are of great importance. Apps like FourSquare and Swarm can serve you well in addition. You can also use Here Maps by Nokia to find your way around since they are more accurate for driving when compared to Google Maps, and they work offline.
21. Google Earth
Use Google Earth (in combination with The Photographer’s Ephemeris) in order to find some good locations which are usually not on the tourist maps, and plan the light along that. Google Earth/Maps can be confusing at the beginning, but when you combine that with all the other information you’ve gained, it can be a good place to plan the routes you’ll take. At least roughly if nothing else.
22. Tourist Maps And Offices
Most of the cities that are tourist attractions have tourist aid offices and maps all over the place. In Ljubljana for example you can find tourist maps for free in almost every cafe, and that goes for most of the other European cities. Being aware of that, it can help you greatly. Those maps have places of interest marked clearly and they usually have some history written for those as well.
23. Be Prepared For The Local Culture
Some countries may have a strict culture. In your research you’ll probably find that out. If you are visiting one of these countries, be prepared to fit in. Bring clothes that will suit the part, learn the customs of the cultures to act the part. And make sure that you know what is insulting in that culture so you can avoid doing that. Trivial things can make you look bad in certain cultures, so do your research in those areas so you can avoid nasty situations.
24. Keep A Journal Or A Travel Log
Of course, keep notes about everything, while you are researching, and while you are traveling and researching on the spot. It will prove handy for your travel journals and so forth. Later on you can use those notes and logs to engage your audience through social media with compelling stories about your travels and so forth. As an added bonus, you’ll keep your memories better that way.
When you are purchasing new gear, make sure that you have international warranty if possible. This will serve you well if something under warranty breaks down while you are traveling. If the problem in question is a small defect it can be repaired on the road via an official service centre in the country you are in. That way you won’t be left without that gear piece while travelling.
On the other hand, if you are moving through crowds or hiking it is wise to have a protector filter on your lenses. Not that it will protect it that much from high mechanical damage (if you drop the camera for example) but it will protect it against scratches from sharp objects (like metal buttons on jackets in crowds, or branches and stuff when hiking).
26. Be Prepared For The Weather
Wherever you are traveling, weather conditions will be different. That is nothing new. However, oftentimes the weather can catch you unprepared and you end up soaking wet. Now don’t get me wrong, you being soaking wet isn’t so bad, you can change clothes and you are all set. Your gear being soaking wet on the other hand is a huge problem. So be prepared for it, and not just the rain, snow, blizzards, dust storms, extreme heat and so forth. Even if your gear is weather sealed it doesn’t mean that it is weatherproof. It can take some water or dust without any issues, but it can’t go underwater.
Bear in mind that most of the photography gear works from 0 to 35 degrees celsius. Anything below and above that is risky. Also, make sure you acclimate your gear slowly when going through a big temperature change to avoid internal damage due to condensation.
Travel photography is not a genre, it is just a descriptionary term for photography that is done while on the road. It takes a bit of a different approach, but in the end of the day your photography skills are the ones that make the shots. You as a photographer should be able to handle the pressure and the difficulties of an unknown climate and terrain, and outside of the comfort zone that your hometown provides. Besides that, it is just photography, slightly more difficult, but much more rewarding. It gives you three valuable things: documenting your experience, portfolio material, and potential monetary value. A win-win-win scenario. But only if you do it right.