Photography and travel photography in particular have been a passion of mine for a long time and now I would like to share some of the most important stuff I’ve learned over the years with our dear readers. I started with a Nikon EM SLR making mostly slides and upgraded to digital in 2002. The SLR had served me very well but I realized I could cut the cost of photography to almost nothing with digital technology. Making dozens of shots of the same subject means you’re bound to have a good one eventually! Only a couple of years later I discovered the benefits of image editing software like Photoshop.
Enough history, let’s move on to my tips. In this article I assume you have some experience with (digital) photography already and I concentrate on the specifics of “shooting on the road”.
First, choose the right equipment. I like a semi-pro camera with a fixed lens and long zoom. The Panasonic Lumix series for example has exceptional value for money. Best travel photos happen fast. Most of the time you don’t have time to change lenses. Fixed lens also means you have fewer problems with dust. I always keep my camera on auto-focus and auto-exposure. Remember, best photos happen fast. You can lose the action and/or the right light in seconds. Gone forever!
Also, have a decent quality back-up. I like my second camera to be quite small. If you get invited to a party usually nobody objects to photos taken with a small innocent looking “toy-camera”. The same goes for temples, gatherings etc. However, do respect other people’s privacy and local customs.
A small light-weight tripod is useful for night/sunrise/sunset photography. Make sure it folds into your day-bag.
Secondly, learn to use your equipment at home before you travel. Know it inside out. Practice, practice, practice. When you get that once-in-a-lifetime shot you don’t want to ruin it by fiddling with your camera.
Also, read a few good books about photography in general and also on digital shooting techniques. Read them again and practice different techniques.
Ok, so now you’re on the road. You see something captivating. Start shooting! Shoot a lot, maybe 10-20 shots of the same subject. Vary angles, shoot from distance and go closer, by foot or with your zoom. Where is the light coming from? What is essential for the shot? How to compose the shot? If you have done your homework, it helps.
Photographing people: This is a sensitive issue. Basically, you should always ask first. Even pointing at your camera and looking like a question mark is usually enough and you get a positive nod. If you are told “no”, respect it. You’ll find lots of people who actually want you to take their picture. If you talk with people, maybe show them some of your shots on your LCD they often get relaxed and trust you. Hang around later and you can shoot all you want. They might even pose for you voluntarily.
Photographing landscapes: Put your camera on aperture-priority and experiment with different apertures. Do you want a full depth of field or bring out details focusing on something interesting and using a wide aperture setting? If you shoot early in the morning or just before sunset you can get a much livelier and a more “three dimensional” photo because of the shadows. This is especially important for rural landscapes as fields of any crop look really flat without shadows.
Some maintenance tips: Remember that moisture, salt and dust are real digital camera killers! If the conditions are difficult keep your camera in its bag until the last moment. Take your shots, wipe out any visible moisture and dust (carefully!) and put your camera back in its bag. If it starts raining heavily, wrap your camera bag in a plastic bag. When you get back to your hotel, clean your camera at once. Don’t give corrosion a chance. Take out the battery, memory card and everything else that comes off. Clean everything, preferably with a camera care kit. Don’t forget to wipe the lens and filters. Fully charge your batteries and delete unwanted shots to free space on the memory cards.
You get home and download the treasure to your hard-drive. Now begins, at least for me, the most rewarding phase. But wait a second! Calibrate your monitor first. Many monitors ship with calibrating software. If yours didn’t, most image-editing software come with something similar. If everything else fails, just use your eyes! Do pictures on this or any other site look natural to you? Adjust your monitor’s brightness and contrast if necessary.
Make a hard-copy of your photos on CD/DVD and start playing with image-editing tools. Delete really bad shots. Copy the best ones to a different folder and edit them to your liking. I like to crop my photos a lot to bring out what is essential in every photo. Also adjust colours, shadows etc. Print on paper, put on your website or upload to Flickr or some other photo sharing site for everyone to enjoy and comment on.
Done! Can’t wait for the next trip… Practice more, read books, seek information over the internet, maybe join a camera club, attend photo exhibitions, even have your own? Ask at local libraries, shopping malls etc if they allow you to post your pics.
This is the equipment I use currently.
1. Primary camera: Panasonic Lumix DMZ-FZ30 , a real bargain these days with its 12x Leica lens, 8 MB and excellent usability
2. UV filter to protect the front lens of the camera
3. Polarizing filter for shooting early in the morning and late in the evening
4. Manfrotto tripod . These are widely regarded as the best
5. Camera bag
6. Lots of 2 GB SD memory cards and spare batteries
7. Plastic bag to protect my camera when it rains
8. Camera cleaning kit
9. Backup camera: Nikon Coolpix 3200
10. Photoshop for image editing
The following are the best photography books in my opinion. I really like Lee Frost’s clear no-nonsense writing and step-by-step approach to showing you things.
Lee Frost’s Creative Photography Handbook covers photography in general from basics to advanced issues, giving you lots of sound advice on composition, using light and other essential stuff. This book is a must if you want to learn from the master.
He has several other books published as well. I particularly like The A-Z of Creative Digital Photography which is all about digital shooting techniques as well as lots of very useful Photoshop hints for polishing your photos. Some other tips show you how to make really weird, yet interesting creations using Photoshop’s filters. I’ve had many days of fun with this book!