From city lights to tropical sunsets, these travel photography hacks will help you prepare for whatever your next vacation throws at you.
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Before you go: knowing your camera and traveling light
1. Get familiar with your camera
The running of the bulls in Pamplona is not the time to start getting acquainted with the finer points of your DSLR’s manual settings. Take the time to get thoroughly familiar with the ins and outs of your camera before heading off to parts unknown.
If you plan to use a smartphone, explore some of its features you don’t use regularly. Try out a variety of editing and timer apps until you’re comfortable with them. Few things are more frustrating than having to turn your attention from enjoying your vacation to wrestling with tech issues.
2. Don’t bring every lens you own
If you have a large collection of lenses, it might be tempting to try to pack each and every one. After all, a vacation is a perfect opportunity to get some use out of them. But experts recommend choosing just the two or three lenses you’re most likely to need and leaving the rest at home.
Packing too much gear can make lugging it around seem like a chore, so you could actually end up getting less use out of your camera than you would have with a lighter load.
On the other hand, many travelers forget to pack some less-glamorous camera accessories that you should always bring along. (See the next entry on our list for three of the most important ones.)
3. Do bring a tripod, extra memory cards, and at least one spare battery
If you plan to take night or landscape photos, which require slower shutter speeds, be sure to pack a tripod. There are a number of lightweight tripods available for DSLR cameras. If you want to travel even lighter, consider getting a small, portable tripod for your smartphone. My personal favorite is the JOBY GripTight GorillaPod stand, which is has flexible legs you can wrap around nearby objects to get just the right height and angle. It’s also available for small tablets.
Extra memory cards will give you the freedom to shoot as many photos as you want without having to take the time to upload and delete them when you should be out having fun.
You might also want to bring along an extra battery. You don’t want to find yourself (as I once did) at the Eiffel Tower with a dead battery, and no clue as to where the nearest camera shop was (or how to say “I need a camera battery” in French).
Monica of Not a Nomad Blog offers some excellent advice on how to craft a minimal photography kit.
The human element: talking to strangers, getting beyond selfies, and coping with crowds
4. Don’t be afraid to ask strangers to take your picture
One of the best photos my husband (aka Dr. Nixie) and I brought back from our trip to Dublin was the one (above) that a random passerby offered to take. I was shooting the seahorses at the base of a lamppost on one of the bridges over the river Liffy when a woman stopped to ask if we’d like her to take our picture. Of course, we said, “Yes, please!” The result was one of our favorite photos from the trip.
I’ve also been asked many times to take photos of strangers, and I’ve always been happy to do it. Pro hint: If your camera is more sophisticated than point-and-shoot, look around for someone who is using similar equipment so you don’t have to deliver an impromptu photography lesson on the spot.
5. Beyond selfies: Show your style, not just your face
Sure, get plenty of selfies and family photos to post on social media and show your friends you were really there. But don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through when you turn your camera on other subjects.
The way you see the world is part of your unique style. You don’t have to be in the frame to make the photo your own. Capture the mundane details you notice, the fleeting moments happening all around you. These often do a better job of telling a story than the must-see monuments and views.
And if you’re drawn to a traditional tourist attraction, don’t settle for the standard shot you’ve seen a thousand times. Put your own twist on it, either by finding a unique angle, juxtaposing a one-time experience with a timeless setting, or zooming in on an overlooked detail.
6. Crowd control: People are part of the story
Whether you’re visiting the beach, a big city, or a tourist destination, there will be times when you secretly wish all the people would just go away already so you can get the perfect shot.
Sometimes it’s worth waiting for that to happen: letting traffic clear to get a car-free image of an ancient street, or getting an action shot of wildlife that isn’t marred by other humans with cameras. But often, it’s better to just embrace the crowds and include them in your photos. After all, they’re part of what’s happening, too.
I’ll never forget my first trip to Prague. After walking around the city for a couple of days, I was considering buying a sketch from one of the many street artists. But when I looked at his work, I felt like something was missing. Finally, I was able to put my finger on it: There were no people in his pictures! He had sanitized the main tourist attractions for his target audience (who can blame him?), but the empty streets in his drawings didn’t match my experience. Don’t let this happen to your photos!
Travel photography hacks for special places and times
Landscape photographer Sergio Lanza shares some of his professional tips for how to shoot landscape photos like a pro on Passion Passport.
His top four pro tips:
- Try shooting the same location at different times of day and in different weather conditions until you discover the perfect light.
- Experiment with settings, composition, and so forth to let your own personality and creativity come through (see #5 above).
- Pack wide-angle and tele-zoom lenses, neutral density filters, and a tripod.
- Don’t forget to have fun!
Whether you’re photographing lions in Africa or squirrels in your own backyard, there are a few basic guidelines for capturing memorable wildlife shots with your camera:
- Early morning and late afternoon hours tend to provide the best light.
- Try to be at eye level with your subject, and establish eye contact if possible.
- Extreme wide-angle shots and extreme close-ups tend to be more memorable than a happy medium.
- And, of course, it’s always more interesting if you can catch two or more animals interacting.
Wildlife photographer Morkel Erasmus offers these and other pro insights in “10 Tips for Improving Your Wildlife Photography” on the Digital Photography School blog.
9. Bright lights, big city
To capturing the amazing look of a brightly lit city at night, you’ll need to adjust your settings to let in more light without sacrificing sharpness.
The exact settings you need will vary depending on your camera and situation, but in general you’ll want a slow shutter speed and and a smaller aperture. This means you’ll definitely need to use a tripod (see packing tips above) and a timer or remote to avoid any movement.
Shooting in raw mode will give you more latitude to correct the color afterwards using Lightroom.
Mike Clegg at Travel and Destinations offers suggestions for specific camera settings for night photography for both Nikon and Canon users.
10. Sunrise, sunset
According to photography blogger Darren Rowse, good sunrise and sunset photos are relatively easy to come by. He recommends scouting out good locations ahead of time, shooting at various focal lengths and exposures, and sticking around until well after the sun has gone down in order to capture any afterglow effects.
He also advises taking advantage of the “golden light” of late afternoon/early evening by looking around for other subjects besides the sunset itself.
You can read Rowse’s post “12 Tips for Photographing Stunning Sunsets” (most of which apply equally well to sunrises) on his Digital Photography School blog.