Whether it’s on holiday or as a vocation, the opportunity to take great pictures while you’re away from home is too good miss. It can be hard to know how much gear to take with you, how to use your time wisely and how to get the best possible shots you can. Here, we’ll go through some of our top travel photography tips to get you ready to pack your bags and head out on your next adventure.
What You Need
You really have to know what you want in order to know what kit to take. If you’re road tripping, then great, you can take more equipment with you; but if you’re backpacking or doing a lot of walking around then chances are you won’t have the bag space, or energy, to lug around everything.
A Good Walk-Around Lens
A good ‘walk-around’ lens is key. What I mean by that, is a lens that will give you a decent focal range in order to capture most eventualities. I recently bought a 24-85mm because I was sick of switching out lenses and missing opportunities while I was on holiday, not to mention the weight of carrying several lenses around hot cities.
The 24-85mm is a perfect traveler because the wide-angle end of the range is great for landscapes and impressive architecture shots and the longer, short-telephoto end is good to grab stuff that isn’t right in front of you, and also any street photos you might want. There are many versions of the 24-85mm about. While in general wider apertures are best, they also mean lugging about a lot more glass, so for traveling lenses with smaller maximum apertures (around f/4) are worth considering.
If you were going on a holiday where there was a lot of wildlife, this probably wouldn’t be the lens for you; or at the very least, you’d need a long zoom as an alternative.
If you don’t have a particular lens that you think you might need, consider renting one. Long zoom lenses in particular can be very expensive so if you’re only going to need it for the duration of your trip, it can be much more cost effective to rent rather than buy.
A Filter or Two
Filters give you added opportunities with your chosen lenses. I find a polariser is particularly useful as it dulls a bright sky or water, lessens reflections on buildings and also can be used to give you added scope for a long exposure if you’ve not got a neutral density filter handy.
Added to these benefits, filters protect the end of your lens. When you’re shooting on holiday or while travelling, you can constantly be snapping away and as a result, not replace your lens cap each time. This increases the chances of your glass being knocked and damaged and a filter is a much cheaper thing to replace than your lens!
A spare memory card and battery are essential. You don’t want to miss out on pictures of somewhere you may never go back to just because you've run out of storage or power. Even if you take your charger with you (which I recommend), still have a spare battery and keep it in your bag with you when you’re out and about.
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A Safe and Secure Bag
If you’re flying, always take your camera and lenses through in your hand luggage. Even then, though, it should be in a padded bag to protect it from being knocked around in transit.
Ideally, have a bag that doesn’t look like a camera bag but still has the same padding and security. If you’re walking around with hundreds or even thousands of pounds worth of kit then I always think it’s best if it doesn’t look like it.
Make sure your bag is comfortable, preferably one that goes on your back like a rucksack to distribute the weight evenly. Often, shoulder strap bags can cause aches and discomfort during long periods of carrying them.
Good camera bags have a waterproof pull-out section to protect your bag from the rain. Make sure your bag has some protection or at least is water resistant to keep your camera dry until you get out of the rain.
A Non-Descript Camera Strap
This isn’t essential but I do think it’s a useful tip. Camera straps for more expensive cameras tend to say on them exactly what they are and that’s a walking advert for anyone in the know. A thief may be more likely to risk being caught to steal something they know is worth £2000 than something that could be worth a couple of hundred.
This is the most important aspect of travel: make sure you’re insured. Normal holiday insurance generally won’t cover something as expensive as a DSLR. In fact, most standard policies in the UK will limit you to claiming £200 max per item, so check your policy to see how much you’re covered for.
You don’t necessarily have to take out separate insurance just for travel. If you have photographers’ insurance, this generally will cover you when you travel, or at the very least can be added to quite cheaply. Same with your home insurance policy and even your car’s insurance policy, so it’s always worth checking.
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Rio De Janeiro From the Sky
Getting up high is a great way to capture the stunning beauty of a place. Unless there’s an easy way up, many regular tourists overlook stunning heights as they’re not willing to make the walk.
Bungalows on a Lake
This scene contrasts a small piece of everyday life with nature. Keeping the bungalows to the lower third really shows how, here, the trees dominate the landscape.
Balloons at Sunrise
This is a great example of how the time of day can make a photograph. Being at a vantage point at dawn can reap its own rewards, often appearing to show ‘layers’ of a place punctuated by early morning mist.
Portraits of people in their natural environment really help to tell a story of a place. If you think someone may be uncomfortable at having had their photograph taken, it may help to explain what you were doing, show them the photograph and even offer to send it to them if they have an email address.
Parasols by the Shore
The colour contrast here is lovely but it’s the timing that’s really the key to this being a great photograph. How often do you see a beach nearly empty on holiday? The overcast sky has created a great opportunity that the photographer has really used to their advantage.
Have a Plan
You may have limited time in a new place, so make the most of it by planning ahead. Do research before you travel and note down any particular places you want to go, how to get there and how much it will cost. This will save you a lot of time and effort later.
Googling a landmark now includes a really useful section about how busy the place is at a particular time. This can save you hours of queueing or waiting for things to quiet off so again, this is something to make a note of.
Grab a map as soon as you get to your destination in case plans change or you find yourself lost. In developed cities, most cafes and bars have free wi-fi so you can make use of this to add to your plans or double check arrangements.
Get Off the Beaten Path
Try and make your own plans as and when you can, rather than joining tourist groups or planned excursions. There are a lot of reasons for this:
- It will cost you less to do it on your own. Tour operators hike up the price because most people like the ease of someone else organising it for them. Fair enough! I was recently in Amsterdam and saw an organised trip to Zaanse Schans for 60 Euros per person. We were already planning to go on our own the next day. It cost us ten Euros to get the train there and back and four Euros to get into one of the windmills. That’s a saving of 46 Euros per person.
- You can avoid the crowds. I visited a Colosseum a couple of years back where only a handful of other people were looking around. As I left, a coach load of tourists arrived: perfect timing.
- You may surprise yourself. Getting off the beaten path can lead to some lovely discoveries. Moving away from the tourist drag and into the local heart of an area can be the most rewarding parts of a trip.
- The food will likely be better and cheaper. Seeking out tasty places to eat away from the main attractions is a great alternative way to see and learn about a place you're visiting.
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Rushing something rarely produces great results. Give yourself time to properly photograph the places, things and people you see. There’ll always be more we wish we could have done. It's better to do a few things very well than everything badly!
It may be that you want to visit somewhere twice because the lighting wasn’t right the first time. Give yourself spare time in your schedule if you can. That way, if something is taking longer than you thought or you want to spend more time somewhere, it won’t come at the expense of something else you really wanted to do.
Tell a Story
Every place you visit has a story and you have the opportunity to tell it through your eyes, via your photographs. Think about what makes this particular place unique or special. Engage with the locals and be open and polite about what you’re doing.
It can be hard to communicate your intentions if you don’t speak the language, but learning a simple ‘hello’ can be enough to bridge a gap and show that you’re respectful enough to at least try. Make eye contact, smile and be willing to explain what it is you’re doing if asked.
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Don’t be so worried about getting the perfect pictures that you forget to enjoy your holiday. It’s okay to put the camera down now and then and engage with your surroundings. You don’t want to arrive home from the trip of a lifetime and find that you saw most of it through a lens. Your pictures should be a reminder of the amazing time you had, not the only things you can remember from the place!
Over-editing when you get home can be a problem too. Too many adjustments can leave an image looking overdone, so knowing when to stop is a real skill. Working on non-destructive layers and saving your progress as an editable file like a PSD in Photoshop means that if you make a mistake or you have your image printed and it doesn’t look great, you can go back and work on your picture without starting from scratch.
Top Tips to Getting Great Travel Shots
- Don’t pack for every eventuality, think carefully about what you really need.
- Be insured. A standard travel policy is often not enough to cover even a moderately priced DSLR.
- Tone down your camera bag and strap so you don’t become a walking advert for expensive camera gear.
- Go off the beaten track and avoid tourist traps to get the best experiences and more unique images.
- Tell a story. Engage with the locals and be open and friendly; really try to capture what makes a place.
- How to Record Better Travel Videos: learn how to prepare for and capture the highlights of your trip and tell video stories that are worth watching and sharing.
- Fresh Eyes Every Day: The Challenges and Rewards of Photographing Close to Home: You don't need to travel far to find the magic and mystery of the world: there is always something interesting to photograph where you live, you just have to find it.
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Travel is exciting and the chance to get some amazing photographs makes it all the more appealing. Remember, don’t overload yourself with kit. If you take something to cover every eventuality then you’ll end up sore and tired. Think carefully about what you’ll really need, and if there’s something you don’t have then consider a rental for the duration of the holiday, rather than buying.
Travelling with a wealth of equipment also potentially makes you a bigger target for theft so try to get a bag and camera strap that doesn’t advertise your expensive kit. It’s also wise to be insured, a standard travel policy won’t usually cover large items, but check your home and car insurance; they might.
Plan well and thoroughly. This doesn’t mean that you can’t deviate from what you have if the opportunity rises, but it will potentially save you time, stress and money if you know what you want to do and where you want to be, before you travel. It also has the benefit of helping you avoid busy times at popular locations.
Don’t be afraid to make your own plans and decisions rather than doing what a tourist typically does, it could save you money and give you a much richer experience.
Be open and friendly to locals and make an effort with the language, even if it’s just a few words they’ll really appreciate you trying and are much more likely to help you out, show you the sites people don’t always see and again, add to the richness and authenticity of your experience in their country.
Think about what story you want to tell with your images; capture details and highlight the important parts of the culture you experience.
Above all, it’s important to actually experience the moment as well as capture it. We can get all too caught up in getting the perfect shot but that’s only a small part of it so remember to occasionally put the camera to one side and enjoy where you are.