1. Do Some Research
It’s important to do some research on the place you’re about to visit just so you can plan for great moments that may come during your travels. Knowing a little something about your destination will help you determine what kind of gear you really need, the events or festivals you need to watch out for, and the opportunities you don’t want to miss. If you know these things, you’ll spend less time looking for them and more time just taking it all in.
2. Take a Camera You’re Comfortable With
So maybe you splurged on that camera upgrade you’ve been wanting for the last couple of years. Perfect! You can take it on your vacation! However, unless you’re comfortable with using your new camera, there’s a good chance you’ll end up just fiddling and fumbling with it during your entire trip trying to get a good photo.
All cameras have their unique characteristics and quirks no matter how much money you spent on it. You might find that your camera struggles in low light or that the menu system has a learning curve. Knowing these things about your equipment will go a long way in helping you enjoy your trip.
3. Don’t Underestimate the Auto Modes of Your Camera
Maybe you’ve been conditioned to believe that serious photographers use manual settings because it’s more creative and they give you more control over your shots. That’s true, but when you’re traveling, fumbling around for the right exposure or “being creative” with your photography isn’t always an option.
Taking photos in manual mode takes time to master and perfect. Even professional photographers with years of experience use the manual modes of their cameras only when they’re confident with their shots. When the light is constantly changing and there are fast moving subjects, shooting in manual mode can be a huge mistake. It might make you feel like a pro photographer whos knows what they’re doing but your photos will tell a very different story.
You could do a lot worse than using your camera’s Auto function to capture a shot. If you want a little bit more control over full Auto, use shutter priority or aperture priority. It’s better to have a little help than to miss your shots completely.
4. Phone Photography is OK
There was a time when we thought cameras in phones were just a marketing gimmick to get people to buy more phones. That may have been true but the fact is, it worked. A good portion of the population now has a phone and that also means a good portion of the population knows what they want in a camera.
Today, the cameras in most phones take terrific photos. What’s not to like? Your phone is always with you, they’re easy to carry, and you don’t need to worry about a big bag of lenses and gear.
Sure, you won’t have a lot of control over its settings, you probably won’t be able to print high quality wall-sized prints, or use your photos commercially but you’ll still be able to take fantastic photos you can enjoy with friends and family. Besides, you weren’t going to do all that other stuff even if you carried a nuclear-powered DLSR.
5. Back Up Your Photos When You Travel
Find a method that works for you. That might mean carrying a portable hard drive, multiple SD cards, cloud storage, or any method that allows you to protect the photos you’ve taken on your trip. The truth is, traveling is unpredictable. Stuff gets lost or stolen or damaged all the time no matter how careful you are. Hopefully, you’ll never need to use your backups. But just in case you do, at least you didn’t lose all those great photos.
6. Treat Photography as AN Actvity not THE Activity
When you’re on vacation, you should relax. Just lay by the pool or stare at paintings in museums or party like an animal or eat the many local delicacies. Traveling is about experiencing new things.
For any photographer, it can be tempting to just let your camera guide you to interesting new sights in search of the next photo opportunity. However, if all you’re doing is taking in the “sights,” then you’ll miss out on everything else that’s going on around you.
Think about it this way, before there were cameras, people had to actually pay attention to the many sights and sounds and smells and tastes around them. People lived and breathed in their surroundings. It wasn’t just about taking a nice photo. It was about being able to experience new things and tell amazing stories of their adventures.
Today, you can go to Rome or Mongolia or the Grand Canyon, take a nice picture then hop on a plane back home. Technically you did travel and saw some things. You took photos as proof. However, you probably won’t be able to tell an interesting story other than what you can see in your photo. What about the people you met or the food you ate or the shenanigans in which you partook? The sights are just one part of your adventure.
7. Shoot wide and Get Close
I personally like shooting at a wide angle (28mm or 35mm).
When shooting with a wide angle, it’s tempting to fill your frame with everything you can see because you’re thinking you want to show everything in the background. However, shooting wide also means standing a bit further from your subject and it usually means losing a lot of fine details like people’s facial expressions. Therefore, when using a wide angle lens, try to get close to your subject and let the background provide context. It makes for more interesting photography.
When you’re shooting landscapes with a wide angle, fill your forground with an object that’s closer to you and focus at infinity. It will give your landscape shots a great sense of scale and will make for more interesting photos.
8. Dress Up
Going vacation doesn’t mean you get to dress like you would at home. Put on a decent shirt, a jacket that doesn’t have a sports team on it, some respectable shoes, and do your hair. You’ll be taking lots of pictures of yourself and the people you’re with. You don’t want to wear a Lakers jersey for your first photo in front of the Eiffel Tower. Trust.
9. Don’t Zoom, Walk.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. If you need to get close, and you are able to get close, then get close. Don’t depend on your camera’s zooming abilities to fill your frame. Walking closer to you subject does wonders to a photo. The experience becomes more personal and intimate. And you’ll see that in your photos.
Also, zooming usually means your aperture gets smaller on most cameras and thus, lets less light into your camera affecting your exposure settings. So there’s that, too.
10. The Least amount of Gear
The best advice I can give when taking photos of your travels is to carry as few things as possible. It may feel awesome carrying 2 DLSR’s on either shoulder while others admire your obvious passion for photography but just imagine having to carry 2 heavy DLSR’s as you walk and take cabs and ride buses and trains all day. Aside from being a chore, carrying a lot of gear attracts a lot of attention; good and bad.
You don’t need all the gear in the world to take great photos, you just need the right gear. Choose wisely.