Travel Photography for Travellers

Travel photography publications

In common with many other aspiring travel photographers I have read more than my fair share of books and magazines on the subject. These are invariably overflowing with great advice and superb technical information. The authors of the material are highly accomplished masters of their craft and the pages filled with endless sumptuous images to prove their skill.

The beautiful French viallage of Najac in the Aveyron on Mallory on Travel adventure, photography

The lovely castle at Narjac, France

There is always a bit of a problem for me however, the photographers in question are just that, usually involved in photography first and travel photography is how they express their art.

They often spend weeks, months and even years in a single destination capturing the images they need. It is often necessary for them to return several times and the results are the near perfect pictures that adorn every page.

Most of us however are travellers that like to take good photographs and our interest is in improving our ability within the limits of our true passion; travelling.

The challenges

Time is often the biggest challenge to the traveller when taking photographs. Very few of us have enough of this valuable resource to devote to remaining in one place for an extended period, to capture that perfect image.

There are many constraints on our time, we travel with partners and family who maybe have a greater interest in theme parks and shopping than photography. It may also be necessary to join a guided tour or excursion with other tourists that means the traveller is unable to linger for the purposes of taking a picture.

Landscape photographers in particular emphasise that using a tripod is essential to achieve pinsharp images front to back. Whilst this maybe the ideal, just imagine on any excursion you have attended getting out a tripod every time there was a stop, it really is just not feasible and in some places is probably not even permitted.

There is another constraint which tripods and other equipment play a big part in. They add to the overall weight of our luggage and considering the modern limits imposed on baggage this can become an expensive consideration.

Photography in the ideal world of the book authors seems to have perfect light conditions of the ‘golden hours‘ at sunrise and sunset, they  rarely take images in the harsh light of midday. Whilst it is of course possible for most of us to make some sacrifices and get up early to catch sunrise and most of us happily catch sunset, most excursions or sightseeing takes place during the middle of the day.

Monkey wrangler at Djemaa el Fna, Marrakech on Mallory on Travel, adventure, photography

Long telephoto lens are useful for candid portraits

Occasionally it is possible to return to a particularly good spot when the light is better. However, often this is not an option, requiring us to work with the light/weather conditions we find ourselves in.

Put in the research

For the traveller to return with some decent images that are worth showing off, they need a little creativity. Improvisation is needed to make to manage unfavourable conditions with the limited equipment they are able to carry.

A little knowledge is indispensable; there is not any substitute for thoroughly researching your destination and understanding your camera.” The great thing is that most of us have a great resource literally at our fingertips; the internet.

Enter your destination into Google and it is likely that hundreds if not thousands of entries will appear. These will range from Wikipedia, official tourism board sites, TripAdvisor and useful personal travel blogs. All are useful, with information and images of points of interest.

Use guidebooks both before leaving and when you arrive they provide invaluable insight into the destination, as the authors have spent hours in research. On arrival take a trip to the tourism office check out any local events or festivals, examine postcards as they will show any local sights worth photographing.

Contrasting light

The main problem with taking photographs during the middle of the day is that the light is harsh, full of contrasts and dark shadows. If it is impossible to avoid this time of the day which is often the case as already discussed we need to work with what we have.

Streets of Marrakech medina, Morocco on Mallory on Travel, adventure, photography

Street scenes are great photographic subjects

Avoiding blown out skies and other highlights or blocked shadows is difficult, it maybe possible to ‘crop’ them with clever use of the viewfinder. Try to place your subject in even shadow to actually take the image, this can avoid the less flattering aspects of shadows under eyes. Smart metering for as much of the scene we wish to include should also improve the results.

Do not discount silhouettes of course they can often look extremely striking if composed correctly. Using fill-flash for portraits to bring out all the detail in your subject and avoid those dreaded eye shadows.

Exposure compensation

Almost all cameras and even mobile phones now allow some degree of exposure compensation. Essentially it allows the photographer to adjust the level of exposure to avoid an excess at either end of the scale. If the highlights are blown. reduce the exposure by one click, use the histogram to check and continue to compensate until you are happy with the result. Do the opposite to lighten up the shadows.

Be careful with snow however as it is possible to fool the camera metering system into under exposing and the image will end up with grey snow, over expose slightly to compensate.

Bracketing

Good quality compacts and DSLRs enable the photographer to ‘bracket’ their images. Setting up the camera to take separate images, at three or more different levels of exposure. These maybe underexposed, normal and overexposed or any combination you require. It is then merely a case of selecting the one that produces the best result.

It is also possible to use specific software to combine the three (or more) exposures in post capture editing. This is known as High-Dynamic Range (HDR) photography but be careful as if overused the results can look unrealistic.

The St Antonin bridge over the River Aveyron, Midi-Pyrenees, France on Mallory on Travel adventure, photography

A HDR ‘combined’ image

 Improvising support

Tripods are excellent for supporting your camera, but they are often  weighty and time-consuming to deploy. There are lightweight options, and specialist designs, which have flexible legs for wrapping around posts and fences, providing quite adequate stability.

I recommend carrying a stuffsac, which can be filled with clothing, sand or dirt whatever is at hand this provides a flexible support on which to rest the camera on a table, wall, rock or anything else suitable. Just remember if doing so turn off any image stabilisation in the lens or camera.

A raptor in the French Aveyron on Mallory on Travel, adventure, photography

Focus on the eyes of your subject

White balance

If you are taking JPEGs and not RAW make sure you have the white balance set correctly for the conditions. It is not possible to change  after the image has been taken.

Hyperfocal length

A technical sounding term I know but basically this is the range in which the lens on your camera focuses between from very close to infinity. It depends on a number of factors such as the aperture and the focal length being used. There are tables available to get it right but the most simple way to ensure the image is sharp back to front without an in-depth explanation why is to pick a point one-third of the way into the scene and focus on this. This works because lenses focus one-third in front and two-thirds behind the point of focus, so focusing on infinity is wasting most of the lens capability.

Polarising lens

Due to limitations on time and carrying equipment filtering lenses are extras most travelling photographers possibly consider excessive luxuries.

An exception is a circular polarising filter; if you only carry one filter in your bag make it this one. They are excellent for bringing detail out in skies, making them look more blue and removing unwanted reflections from water and foliage. They also reduce the amount of light entering the lens, so are useful to ‘stop’ down in excessively bright conditions.

Camera skills

I hope these few tips help you in improving your own travel photography; ultimately there is not any substitute for knowing how to use your camera properly however. Practice often, take the camera with you when you can, experiment with the controls and features, learn how to use them and you will be better prepared when needing to adapt in the heat of ‘battle’.

Kasbah at Quazzarate in the Moroccan High Atlas mountains on Mallory on Travel adventure, photography

Provide your image with some foreground interest

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      Iain

      Thanks Raymond, HDR is not especially difficult. Most of the work is done by the software, what editing programme do you use? The most important factor is ensuring the image you take is composed exactly the same and everything is the same except the exposure (f-stop). Pretty easy when using bracketing as the images will be taken in quick succession and any minor differences due to ‘shake’ will be resolved by the software. Little more difficult if taking 5 or even 7 exposures, support will be needed then to ensure the composition is the same. Good luck!

  1. Shannon O'Donnell

    Thanks for such a clear outline of tips…I am not a total newbie, so it was great to gloss over the things I know, review those I’ve just mastered and then longingly look at the techniques I’m not yet good at! 🙂

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      Iain

      Glad you found at least a little of some benefit Shannon, I guess most travellers have at least a basic grasp of techniques, but of course always have to assume that some won’t and try to pitch the content/instruction so all can understand it, hopefully managed that here.

  2. Darcy

    Great practical photo advice. All too often with travelling you must simply make the best of whatever situation you find yourself in. Keep scenes in mind to come back to when the light is right, but always take the photo in case you don’t return.

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      Iain

      Sound advice Darcy also think it’s a good idea to take an instant shot immediately and then worry about changing the camera settings afterwards. It is no point having a great techincally correct image of an event/person thirty seconds after the very thing that caught your eye has already transpired! Get the image first worry about the quality second

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  3. Don Faust

    Nice tips. One thing that help others with hyperfocal distance: if you are zooming into a scene, and the first possible focal point is already at infinity according to your len’s maximum focal distance (which you can easily look a)t, don’t worry about it – everything will be in focus, so you are better off setting to a sharper aperture/concentrating on exposure.

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      Iain

      Cool tip Don, personally I always look for some forground interest only ever take an ‘inifinity’ focus shot if there really isn’t anything else and it would be a shame to miss the shot, but usually find they are not of great interest and end up just being stored on the HD not being used.

  4. [email protected]

    Great tips. Your comments on the difference between photographers and travellers who take photos is beautifully put. I’ve always wondered if ‘photographers’ have had to cope with families not wanting to stand still long enough for a shot. Now to learn about bracketing!

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      Iain

      I’m glad you found them useful Jenny, good luck with the bracketing, it’s a great tool for photogs and also pretty much essential if you want to try HDR photography.

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