Welcome to part 3 of the series ‘How to improve your Travel Photography’. After explaining some of the basics of travel photography in Part 1 and sharing some tips and advice on what to consider before setting of to your destination in Part 2, this time it’s gonna be about being on location. Some suggestions on what to photograph, how to shoot it, what to consider before pressing the shutter button and what to put in your camera bag to take your travel photography to the next level. So lets dive right into it …
Travel Photography – On Location
Shoot the right things at the right time
scout the location
So lets say you wanna shoot this nice old church right in the middle of town. You might wanna check where the sun comes up and where it goes down to find out if it’s better to come here in the morning or in the evening. At white time do they illuminate the church, and does the light stay on all night? Maybe you don’t want any people in your shot. Right after Sunday morning mass might be a less convenient time to shoot then.
Or how about this rock formation right off of that picturesque beach. It might be crucial to know when the tide comes in or goes out in order to get the reflection in the water you were after.
Not every part of travel photography is the pure pleasure though. It’s often inevitable to arrive on location way before dawn. That means: setting your alarm clock at an unholy time, when it’s still dark outside. Arriving on location at least an hour before sunrise. Obviously no one wants to crack his ankle, stumbling from stone to stone in the pitch black. That means it can be crucial to check out the location a day before.
get up early / stay up late
The light is especially soft and pleasing in the early morning and late afternoon. It is not as harsh as during the day. Shadows are longer, tones are warm and the water surface of lakes and ponds are often very calm and waveless. The perfect condition to capture some great reflections.
Getting up early also increases your chances to beat the crowds significantly.
No matter where you go or how famous the sight might be, you can be certain that only very little tourist are showing up at, lets say the Coliseum, at 6.30 am. And normally the first tour-buses don’t arrive before 9.00 am. So rather take your travel photography to the next level instead of sleeping in.
be on location an hour early
I know that makes it even tougher, but being on location an hour before the really good light appears has a lot of advantages:
- you can secure a spot (in case it’s a place that gets very busy with other photographers)
- you have enough time to set up your tripod and
- find the right angle and adjust the camera settings
And no worries, you can still take a nap in the middle of the day, when the light isn’t too good anyways, to safe your energy for the evening and the next golden and blue hour.
Travel Photography – Subjects
tell a story
When it comes to travel photography, the ultimate goal should be to
tell an all-embracing story of the place you’re visiting.
A country does not only consist of beautiful landscapes, a city not only of impressive skylines. There’s so much more to it. Foremost the people living there, the food, the architecture, the culture. Festivals, flora and fauna, street photography and daily street life. All of these subjects are part of the bigger picture that constitutes the essence and soul of a country. It therefore should be as well represented in your travel photography.
From the smallest detail to portrait to landmark to landscape overview. There is so much to discover. A shotlist can be super helpful in order not to lose track of the endless possibilities to capture the essence of a place.
Landscapes are a quintessential part of every travel photography portfolio. As we learned before, the
early morning and the late afternoon are the best times to photograph landscapes,
since the light is especially soft and pleasing.
To get tack sharp landscape photographs, some kind of travel tripod is inevitable. Using a travel tripod allows you to stop down your lens (deeper depth of field), expose longer to get that soft flowing-water effect or to show the clouds in motion.
Shooting cityscapes is an essential part of travel photography. A good shot of a cityscape or skyline can be the perfect introduction to a place before diving into details. If you do some research online you gonna find suggestions on photo spots for almost every major city in the world. Here are some photography guides on Amsterdam / Dubai / Budapest and Hamburg.
Cityscapes are especially photogenic during the blue hour.
The deep blue hue of the sky makes for the perfect contrasty background. It is the time of the day, when natural and artificial light are equally bright and complement each other perfectly.
After six years of photographing people in different countries and from different cultures I am still nervous about it. Every time I see a person or a group of locals I’d really like to take a photo of, it’s a fight to overcome my anxiety and just ask.
Of course not everybody agrees to have his photo taken, but most people either don’t care or are even pleased. The main thing is to ask though. Nobody likes his photo taken in a sneaky way. So your first investment should be to learn a few sentences in the local language. “Hey, how are you?”. “Nice to meet you”. “Would you mind if I take your photo?”
The tiniest bit of conversation can already do the trick and open up photo opportunities.
And if you don’t know the language at all, then raising your camera and smiling, in combination with a questioning look, is kind of universally understood. Just smile, be polite and accept it in case you get rejected.
Sometimes the person you want photograph is selling whatever kind of goods. So buying sth. before asking for a photo will definitely increase your chances to get a positive reply. Some people might also ask for money. I think there’s no right or wrong and it’s a personal decision if you want to pay for a photo or not. Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don’t. It always depends on the situation.
Festivals are a great opportunity to capture local life in full swing. Customs and traditions can be observed and photographed point-blank. Do some research prior to your trip and check if there are any festivals planned. Maybe you even wanna plan your whole trip around a certain festival like Holi in India, Loy Krathong in Thailand or Carnival in Rio.
However, it’s always worth to arrive a few days early. You can get an idea of the area and scout for the best locations to photographically capture the festival. On top of that you can get some great shots of dress rehearsals, band practices and everything involved in the busyness and preparation.
Bringing home some shots local plants and flowers will render a more complete image of the area you traveled to. Slow down, get close, look for detail, for patterns and textures and always be aware of the light. As with every other area of photography, some type of light is more advantageous than other.
If you wanna take photos of a jungle or forest, an overcast sky provides the best lighting. It’s even and the contrast is low which makes it easier to get a well-balanced image. Unfortunately the denser the flag, the less available light to work with. A tripod is often inevitable to achieve the necessary exposure time. Furthermore using a polarizer to take the glare off of leaves can make the colors really pop. Flowers often look especially pleasing in the warm light of early morning or late afternoon.
When photographing flowers and plants, getting very close to the subject in combination with a wide open lens (like f/2.8) can result in very nice and almost abstract images. The large aperture produces a shallow depth of field, the background is out of focus, allowing the subject to stand out.
There are three key ingredients to successful wildlife photographs: patience, patience and a bit more patience.
There is no way to direct wild animals in any kind of way. You can’t convince them to stand in front of that pleasing mountain background or over there, where the light is better. So the only thing you can do is to wait. Try to pre-visualize the intended end result, be wary and just be ready when the moment happens.
The more time you spend with your subjects, the higher the chance to get away with some good photographs.
Talking tech, telephoto lenses are a big plus when it comes to wildlife photography. It obviously depends on how close you can get and on the size of your subject. If you feel like carrying around a 600mm lens is somehow too exhausting, and you can cope with a slightly worse image quality, then consider using a teleconverter instead. They’re light, small and come in different degrees of magnification. When using a super long lens, every little movement can cause blur. Therefore using some kind of tripod will increase the number of sharp shots significantly.
Always remember that wildlife photography is not only about taking headshots of the animals. Don’t just work really tight, also use a wider angle to show the animals in their natural surroundings and habitat. You can also zoom in super close and just show a detail. Maybe the beautiful color scheme of a bird’s coat or the eye of a crocodile.
No matter in which of the above mentioned areas of travel photography you immerse yourself in, always pay enough attention to the details. Often the smallest details can tell a whole story and reveal the soul of a place. Maybe it’s a close-up view of a Tibetan farmer’s wrinkled hands or a shot of a distinct piece of traditional clothing. It is the little details that spice up your travel photography portfolio and round off the story you’re trying to convey.
Any questions or comments? Any additional tips on how to take your travel photography to the next level? I’d really like to know what you would recommend so feel free to drop a comment below. I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
And if you like what you see, feel free to connect on Instagram for travel photos from around the world.