Photo Tour Tips top tips for your next photography vacation
A travel photography tour or vacation can be a wonderful, life-changing adventure; exploring that bucket list destination, making new friends with a shared interest, meeting locals. However recording it all to later share with your friends and capturing those killer images can be a bit of a challenge sometimes. So, below is a list of the top tips to help and inspire you to create some stunning travel photography.
1. Travel Light.
Possibly key to a successful photography trip is to pack as little as possible and just enjoy yourself. It is all too easy to get carried away when packing for that big photography trip. It’s often not until we pick that camera bag up that we realize we might have to lose a few items. However, for some, that’s easier said than done there is always that “what if” factor. However, you should try to restrict your kit; you will almost certainly surprise yourself with being able to do more with less. Sure it would be great to bring everything, but the practicalities of baggage allowance, insurance and back ache need to be considered. Plus, It’s just no fun carrying huge weights for extended periods of time.
For super lightweight travel photography tours, a one camera one prime lens could be an option. However, It makes sense to have a backup body. Something that can take the same lenses and batteries you have with you and keep you working, at least while you are sorting out the repair or replacement for the broken main camera body. It is worth looking at the model down in the range from the main camera as a backup. Often lighter, cheaper and with a familiar menu layout it makes sense as a second body. Other essentials for your photo vacation would be a heap of memory cards (I don’t want to be writing over them in the field) some ND filters and a compact tripod such as a Gorillapod or a Fiesol Monopod. A super lightweight flash unit paired with a couple of lenses and you just might have all you need.
2. But which lens is best? – Choosing The Right Lenses.
Travel Photography is just a collection of other types of photography such as street photography, landscape, wildlife, social documentary, etc. So picking the right lens for your next photography vacation can be tricky if you don’t know exactly the sort of images you are after. With a clear idea before you go, it certainly helps focus the selection process. Should you just have room or budget to select one then opt for a zoom such as an 18-200mm or 28-300m, etc. If we discount wildlife photography for a minute, then it makes things a lot easier. I’m happy to take a 21mm (full frame equivalent) and just use that for all of the above. So with a mirrorless APS camera setup, a 14mm and a 55-200mm might be all you need, to begin.
If you have the extra room or would prefer more choice consider packing a portrait prime lens such as a 50mm or 85mm plus a wide angle lens 10-24mm and a telephoto zoom, say a 70-200mm f4. Regarding the 70-200mm, you might find that the f4 version is as good for your needs and a lot lighter. However, try not to just take everything “just in case” It makes for a more pleasant trip if you have a couple of small primes. If you are visiting a wildlife park then maybe a teleconverter will do the job to boost your longer zoom lens, or perhaps look into the possibility of renting a longer lens for a couple of days while you are there. Renting can save you the headache of carrying the big telephoto zoom around for the entire trip.
My selection for mirrorless travel on a typical photo tour is a 14mm and a 35mm, and that’s all I need really.
3. Go local.
When traveling abroad, I often will employ the services of a driver, translator/guide to help cut through a lot of the logistics while in an unfamiliar area. Using the services of a local can speed up things so much, and open doors that you might have otherwise walked straight past had you been alone. Drawing on their knowledge can also be helpful allowing you to think outside the box and try to avoid the cliche landmarks and views. By all means, mop them up while on your photography trip but allow yourself some creative time too where you can try to make some unique images, using unusual techniques or equipment. Such as slow shutter speeds at night, or a night time street shoot somewhere most people cover in daylight. Sourcing a suitable guide may just be a matter of a quick search online, sites such as Tripadvisor and Facebook are a good starting point, or go with recommendations from fellow travel photographers who have visited the region before.
4. Take Notes.
I carry these field notebooks and use my smart phone notes during the day to record details on my photo trips such as names and such of people I have met and photographed. After a hard day hitting those streets with your camera, take a little time to write down a few facts and thoughts in a notebook about the day’s events if at all possible.
Getting into this habit can help you remember details at a later date for blogging about your photo tours or answering questions people might have about a particular image, and you will reap the benefits when it comes the time to add keywords and descriptions of the places or people to your photos in Lightroom.
5. Scout Locations.
If time permits you can gain a lot of inspiration and save yourself quite a few problems if you can scout ahead of shooting. So leave the camera back at the hotel in the safe and book a tour with a local guide and just go and enjoy without the pressure of bagging that world class image.
While out on your tour ask your guide what areas they are requested to take photographers to more often than not they will know the best spots for the travel photographer. Also, take some time to browse the postcard stands and ask if your guide knows where any images that capture your interest where taken. If you have a wish list already from your earlier research, have your guide spin you by some of them or show you the trail heads and parking. If you find yourself needing some inspiration and wondering where or what to shoot then maybe start with a visit to the local tourist information office. Ask the people there if they can recommend some areas to visit.
All of this should help you formulate a “shot list” from the shot list you can begin to build you itinerary. This list will help flag up just how much time and how many nights you need at any one location during your travel photography trip.
6. Engage with the locals, what’s the worst that can happen?
Gain some knowledge of the locals, prior or during you travel photography trip. I asked Magnum photographer Martin Parr “what is the one thing a photographer should take with them when on a trip?” and he said, “the one thing every photographer should take with them is knowledge and an interest in their subject matter.”
Often one of the biggest hurdles for any travel photographer is confidence. We’d all love to grab those wonderful environmental portraits you know the ones expressing the subject’s character and culture and, but too many of us choose to fire of a telephoto shot from meters away for fear of rejection. We need to get up close, Robert Capa is famously quoted as saying “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” Now he wasn’t talking about using a longer lens here; he means for you to get in close to your subject. I will often shoot on a 14mm a few meters from my subject when I am shooting these type of portraits.
Being in close to your subject when taking your images helps makes it like being in their world for your viewers. So why not get in there and ask. Let’s face it, what’s the worst that could happen? They may just say no but hey that’s no big deal now is it?
More often than not they will simply smile and nod, and then you are good to go. So, just be brave, take a deep breath and walk right up to your subject and ask, just remember to be polite.
Should they no be happy, then smile, thank them and be on your way. I find it helpful if they do agree to start gently and make a few shots then show them the back of my camera, so they have an idea of what I’m doing. I also carry a small printer with me and will often make photos on the spot; you cannot imagine the positive impact this simple gesture makes.
7. Shoot in the right frame of mind.
Shooting in RAW with a small JPEG will offer you more options on your return. I have an option for a compressed lossless RAW, so I use that paired with a small jpeg. The jpegs come in handy for sending to my smartphone in the field and posting on social media I find I have little need for a large jpeg. Common thinking is that this will mean you’ll need to travel with a many high capacity fast memory cards. But that’s not what I find to be the best plan from my experience. Often bargains can be had on slightly slower older memory cards, which frankly 18 months ago would have been the best thing available. I will go for much smaller capacity cards and happily change them out around lunch time. These are so cheap that there is no excuse not to stock up. It means that should you have a card fail you might have lost a morning shooting, rather than four days if using that huge card! The slightly slower cards are still perfectly fine for daily shooting. So unless you are going to be shooting sports or wildlife in multi frames per second mode, it makes sense just to buy lots these. If you have the budget for the latest fastest cards then great just get those. I factor on having two cards for each day of your trip and try to swap them out around lunch.
Do try to get into the habit of downloading your images to a laptop with an external storage device every night. I sleep much better knowing that it has been backed up, believe me. Also, when you go off shooting, take twice the amount of cards/capacity with you than you would expect to need.
Have a look here If you are interested in finding out more about the gear I carry on photo trips