Being able to capture amazing images that tell stories is probably the main reason people get into travel photography. Returning home and showing all of your friends and family the amazing places you visited is great, but what if you want to get a little more serious with your travel photography?
Maybe you want to turn it into something more? If you’re trying to grow social media accounts or start a blog then taking your travel photography to the next level is something that will constantly be on your mind.
In order to stand out from the crowd your images need to, well…. stand out from the crowd!
What is it that makes you stop and say ‘wow’ and give one photo on Instagram a quick like, but not the one above it? It’s not always something you can put your finger on, but with these 5 tips you can become the photographer who gets all the love!
Let’s start with the obvious things you need to become a great travel photographer, or really any photographer for that matter. You can always add to your setup but these 3 things are needed no matter what: A high quality camera, lens/lenses and a tripod.
Cameras come in all shapes and sizes these days but the real question you need to ask yourself is “do I buy a mirrorless or a DSLR?” Compact cameras just will not cut it. You need the ability to take full manual control of your camera and changing lenses will be essential if you are considering capturing vastly different scenes on your travels (landscapes, streets, people, etc.).
I won’t go into the detailed technical aspects of every mirrorless and DSLR camera because there is a huge variety out there so do some research on Google. What I will say though is I HIGHLY recommend a mirrorless camera.
Mirrorless cameras are so much smaller than DSLR’s and if you pair them with a nice compact prime lens (more on lenses below) then the space-saving benefits completely outweigh any benefit you get from a DSLR. Remember this is a travel photography focused suggestion, if you’re shooting supermodels for Vogue then, yes, get a DSLR.
You’re also going to be more inclined to take a mirrorless out with you everywhere you go (something you should definitely be doing). A big and heavy DSLR is going to become cumbersome after a while.
As professional photographer Chase Jarvis said “The best camera is the one that’s with you.”
Lenses are a personal choice when it comes to travel photography. You really have to think about what kinds of shots you will be taking and also decide how much space you have available for them in your luggage. My suggestion is you pick no more than two lenses.
One should be a good prime lens (one that can’t zoom) with an equivalent focal length of 50mm. Today many mirrorless cameras have what is called a ‘crop sensor’. Don’t worry too much about it, just know that if you have a crop sensor camera then you need a 35mm prime lens, which will give you a 50mm focal length after the ‘crop’ has been taken into consideration.
This focal length is absolutely perfect for street photography as it is the same focal length as the human eye. The resulting pictures are very pleasing to look at and everything will be in good proportions.
My second suggestion, if you have the ability to take 2 lenses, is a zoom lens. This gives you some flexibility in terms of focal length. Basically you can zoom into a scene rather than physically having to walk closer. I could write a whole separate article on prime vs. zoom lenses but generally primes give you better sharpness and depth of field.
The good news is most cameras will come with a standard zoom when you buy it! It’s called a kit lens, and yes some people say kit lenses aren’t very good, but depending on the brand they can do the job just fine. My first 5000 or so photos were taken with a Fujifilm kit lens and many of them are excellent quality.
Buy a cheap lightweight travel tripod. I will probably be disowned from the photography community for saying that but you can’t be expected to haul a big professional tripod with you while travelling, it’s just not practical.
Even a cheap $20 tripod will be great for night-time photography (allowing for a slower shutter speed in order to let more light in, with no motion blur from camera shake). If you plan to explore the outdoors on your travels it can also be used in most normal conditions for landscape photography. Just don’t try to use it to hold your expensive camera in gale force winds.
You can have all of the equipment in the world but if you can’t compose a compelling shot it’s going to be difficult to stand out. Luckily though, it’s not hard as long as you follow some basic rules.
Pick a subject. Focus on one specific element with all other elements contributing to the main subject. Adding human elements to photos helps people relate to them and, to a certain degree, empathise with them.
The picture above was taken during a trip to Budapest. I wanted to capture the ‘feel’ of the city. Simply taking a shot of the same street from the path as I was walking past wouldn’t have done the job nearly as well as this shot does. Even if the story is just people crossing the road, this street-level photo shows movement which leads the mind to wonder what these people are doing.
This sort of composition makes the photo more interesting for your audience.
Something else you can do to improve your photography in general is to make use of leading lines. Leading lines are natural lines that draw your eye either to the main subject, or into the centre of the photo making you feel like you are in the frame.
In the photo above, you can see the road and buildings on either side of the road are forming a line for your eye to follow into the centre of the frame. The white lines from the crossing are even pointing towards the centre.
Your approach to travel photography is something that will make the difference between getting that great shot, just how you imagined it, and the moment passing and being gone forever. You need to have the confidence to snap that picture of the old lady working at a market stall, even if that means putting a camera in her face so to speak. If you wait until you think she isn’t looking then the moment will be gone.
Now, if your subject really isn’t happy about the photo, then obviously apologize and offer to delete it. But in my experience, that’s not the reaction you will get most of the time. Instead, smile, show them the photo and compliment it. Telling the person why you love the photo so much often defuses the situation and makes them feel involved and noticed.
You can even take their contact details and offer to send it to them!
4. Pre-trip Planning
If you are going to a destination that you haven’t been to before, doing some research beforehand is going to pay off massively. Get an idea of the places you’re going to photograph, more or less, before you get there. After all, you’re there to actually enjoy your surroundings, not spend the whole time hunting for photo opportunities.
Look online, read some books or find some brochures. That way you will know what gear you need to take with you. That said, still keep your eyes peeled for that spontaneous moment, but it gives you a good idea of the general direction you should be looking in.
Landscape / cityscape photographers listen up. You should at least know where the sun rises and sets!
5. Always Go Out With Your Camera
Remember what Chase Jarvis said? The best camera is the one that’s with you!
There is no point in taking a big heavy camera, with functions you don’t know how to use, if you are just going to leave it at your accommodation when you go out for lunch. Find the best set up for you that isn’t a burden and take it out with you all of the time.
Some of my best work has been images of spontaneous and random moments (although I had the right equipment with me to get the shot because of my pre-trip planning).
And don’t forget to bring fully charged batteries.
Thanks for reading my top tips on getting the most out of your travel photography. If this article has helped you out, I’d love to hear your comments. Happy travels!
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