Tips for your travel photography
Capture your journey
A journey is half the adventure! We don't just turn up at exotic locations ready to snap away. We get there by plane, car, train or boat (or helicopter, by doing cartwheels or by being pushed there in a wheelbarrow, it can happen)! The journey is a big part of your worldly travels and family holidays so should be captured along the way just as you would with the holiday itself.
A shot of your friends in the back seat of a hire car while pulling out of a foreign airport onto the wrong side of the road or out the window of a plane as you circle your destination city from on high will bring the memories roaring back in years to come.
Photograph the quirks of everyday life
I remember laughing out loud when seeing my first pedestrian crossing sign in Prague; the suited, hat wearing jovial gent carrying his briefcase and striding across the zebra crossing all on a triangular blue sign. It's seeing things like this that help you realise the subtle differences from country to country, or even city to city. Try capturing the otherwise mundane.
As well as being artistic and original with your shots, be practical with your snaps too. Capture a shot of the place you're staying in so if you get lost you can show the locals your photo and (hopefully) get directions back there!
Look at the detail
The sheer number of swastikas I see on my travels is amazing. Be it in the Rockefeller Center in New York, on a table outside a cafe near Carnaby Street,, in a fence pattern in Luxembourg or even the actual real-deal sinister-as-hell Nazi swastikas in Munich. If you notice recurring patterns, shapes or colours while on your travels, make a point of capturing them so you can put together a great collection later.
Look out for the features synonymous with a particular place too. It could be recurring Islamic patterns in tiles and on walls in North Africa, the striking blue and white colour scheme seen in the Greek Islands or even the kinds or trees common in a particular place on Earth.
Depth of field, composure and experimentation
It's all well and good excitedly taking a photo of the Sydney Opera House when you first see it only to look back through your photos at some later date only to wish you'd been more imaginative with your composure. Anyone can take a photo of a building so make yours stand out. Try finding an exotic local tree, phone box, or even a local person and include these in the foreground of your shot. Use your manual controls to give the shot some depth of field. Even if you're using a simple point-and-shoot style camera, adjust its pre-set modes to give the shot something different. You'll find your shots more visually interesting as a result.
Using composure is a great way to make your photos all the more interesting. If you're used to centering your subject in the view finder, try forcing yourself to do something different next time.
Off-centre the point of interest in your shot. If it's a person in your next portrait try framing them left or right of centre to give life to the background. When shooting buildings, step back from your usual position and capture some of the street life next to it, or the sky above.
Take additional lenses
Though it's not always practical to lug around a camera bag containing multiple lenses, especially when backpacking, but if you can, take a few different lenses with you on your trip. Try a zoom, a prime and if you have the capacity, also take along a wide angle or telephoto lens.
Your lens choices will depend on the type and style of trip or holiday you're going on. For a city break you might like to take a prime and a zoom, while a if you're off on scenic hiking holiday through the mountains of the US or the Outback of Australia, you might like to take a prime and a telephoto along to capture far off detail such a birds, kangaroos or bears.
Depending on the choice of lenses you take, you'll need to think how you compose your shots depending on the lens you choose to use. If comfortable, stick with one lens for a few days before switching to your other lens or lenses for the next few days of your trip. By getting into the mindset of using only one lens at a time, and learning it's restrictions and benefits, you will become a better photographer.
A general zoom lens will allow you the greatest freedom to capture the greatest variety of subjects. Always a good walk around lens for this reason but who wants boring snapshots? The biggest problem with zoom lenses is that they offer the least challenging, or interesting, style of shooting.
A prime lens is a fixed focal length lens, often 35mm or 50mm in size. When using prime lenses you will be forced to compose your shots by physically moving your body closer or further away from the subject. This may sounds like a backward step if you've only ever used a prime lens but the thing with primes is that they also allow the most creative possibilities.
Take this example: with the confines street photography, sometimes you simply won't be able to move back far enough to fit in an entire building because you'll either be knocked down by the passing traffic, or another building is in the way. So this is where you put your 'Captain Creative' hat and oversized badge combo on and you have to think how else you can capture the shot... Try moving in and finding some detail or a new and interesting angle. If it's raining or the surrounding buildings are covered in glass, try capturing your subject in a reflection. It will add to the mood and help you recall memories later of that rainy day in London when you captured St. Paul's Cathedral reflected in a puddle on the road next to the pub you just had a drink in. Eh, see what we're doing here? By using technique with a little forethought, you can capture some great photos with a prime lens.
Another lens option to consider is a telephoto zoom lens. Telephoto zoom lenses are the big mothers you see sports photographers and nature photographers using. These lenses allow you to reach far into the distance to capture shots without disturbing the photographic subject.
Suited less to the walk-around-day-lens category I just made up, telephotos are suited more to stalking your subjects from a far. Typically, you'd use a telephoto when capturing wildlife in Richmond Park in London or in the Rockies in the US. These lenses are heavy and get heavier still the longer the lens so not suited to all holiday or travels but if you do manage one on your next trip and don't mind the shoulder pain associated with carrying one, you won't regret it when you realise the zoom reach available to you with a telephoto lens.
That leaves wide angle lenses. Wide angle lenses are great for capturing landscape shots and can produce wonderful all encompassing photos. The main drawback with these types of lenses is the warping that can occur in your photo when shooting with a non-levelled composition. Basically, if you're shooting level with the horizon your shots will look great. Try tilting down or up and tall objects like people, trees or buildings will start to lean in to the centre of the shot. Despite the potential drawbacks of wide angle lenses, having one would be a great addition to your photographic adventures when used well.
Remember, think before you shoot and don't be afraid to try something new. Be it in your composition, use of depth of field or by photographing something you otherwise wouldn't. Try these simple steps and you'll come away with more meaningful and beautiful shots than you ever have before. And hopefully, you'll improve your travel photography and enjoy your travels even more!