Travel photography is an odd genre of photography. Many photographers are looking to get iconic photos of specific locations, like the pyramids or the Statue of Liberty. Others prefer to simply wander a new city with their camera and see what surprises come forth. These seven tips apply to both styles and will ensure you return home with excellent travel photos!
Tip 1: Narrow down your lens selection
As an interchangeable lens user, it’s likely you have at least three, if not more, lenses to work with. By now, you should have a fairly good idea of what sort of photography you’re interested in. One thing about travel photography is that the photos are often incidental to you enjoying your vacation locale. So unless you’re specifically looking to do photography, it’s often a good idea to limit yourself to one or two lenses while exploring. You’ll cut down on weight and you can still cover nearly every creative angle. Wide angle lenses are great for street photography. Anything below 40mm is considered a wide angle lens, as it has a very wide field of view compared to other lenses. If you can get a 12-40mm lens, you’ll find it covers portraits, buildings, and landscapes perfectly. If you can afford it, a nice open aperture like f/2.8 will give you some beautiful bokeh in your portraits. Otherwise an f/2.8-f/4.0 or more will still give you a great field of view at the cost of aperture flexibility. It’s just the sort of thing to stay on your camera while you’re busy exploring a new city. Your second lens is most likely going to be a zoom lens. Try to shoot for something with a lot of reach; 150-200mm, or more.
Tip 2: Aim for the Golden Hour
The Golden Hour is the first hour after sunrise, and the last hour before sunset. Because the sun is shining through more layers of the earth’s atmosphere than later in the day, the sunlight has a warm, golden color to it. Also the sunlight tends to be diffused slightly, depending on the weather. Diffused light is great for photography, because it’s naturally soft. Shadows are less harsh, and the light is flattering on human skin. And when photographing locations, the ambience can change dramatically when shooting during this time period.
Tip 3: Bring a Polarizing Filter
Circular polarizing filters are one of the few filters every photographer should carry. When it comes to working with any sort of glare, a CPL can reduce or even eliminate it. Glare from glasses, for example, as well as windows and glass panels can be a pain otherwise. With a CPL, you can also pull more detail from rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water on a bright sunny day. Circular polarizing filters even deepen the blue of the sky and pull detail from clouds, as atmospheric haze is another form of light scattering.
Tip 4: Work with a Tripod & Remote Shutter
If you have room, you’ll find plenty of moments where a tripod and remote shutter will be handy. If you’re a fan of HDR (high dynamic range) photography, then you know the camera takes three photographs with three different exposure levels. The catch is, you have to keep the camera and the scene fixed, otherwise you’ll have a blurry mess of a photograph. So if you’re in a church or other area where you have a mixture of bright light and dark shadows, a tripod and remote shutter are essential. Nowadays many cameras even allow the user to sync with a smart device like a smartphone. So even if you don’t own a remote shutter, be sure to check the manufacturer website of your camera and see if there’s an app to mimic one!
Tip 5: When in doubt, snap!
Remember digital cameras have infinite film, so long as you have batteries and memory cards to hold the photos. It’s tempting to simply snap and move on, especially if you’re traveling in a group. As a photographer, I always warn people that if the camera’s around my neck and I have a good scene, I might be here for a good ten minutes snapping. I might even crawl on my belly or on a fence for just the right angle. Better if they move on and I catch up, I say.
So if you can, try various angles. Sometimes your initial creative impulse will lead to a photo that looks not as great as expected. But even if you feel a dull curiosity for another scene, snap then, too. And spend time simply looking through the viewfinder. It’s easy to forget that what your eye perceives is not exactly what the photograph will look like. The moment something intrigues you, put your eye to the viewfinder and see what result is there. And snap anyways. You lose nothing and might immortalize a marvelous moment.
Tip 6: Walk off the beaten path!
Don’t stick to the preplanned route and schedule. Ask locals where the best views of the city are. Are there better areas that are less crowded than the one everyone goes to visit? Also take time to simply wander around and explore. There’s always surprises to be found if you’re ready and a bit adventurous.
Tip 7: Don’t forget the extra batteries!
Loss of battery power has ruined many a photography moment. Extra batteries are inexpensive and absolutely mandatory. DSLR cameras tend to have decent battery lives; anything below 400 images per charge is rather weak. Some like the Nikon D3400 top 1200 images per charge. For a powerhouse like that, a single extra battery is all you should need. Mirrorless and point and shoot cameras unfortunately fall far below this mark due to their reliance on power consuming electronic viewfinders. So two or even three extra batteries are recommended if you’re a user of these types of cameras. Happy shooting!