Take Your Travel Photography To The Next Level
It's holiday season, which for keen photographers means only one thing – it's time to dust off your travel photography skills. Get it right and travel photography can deliver images that you will treasure for years, images that continue to resonate and generate interest long after you have taken them.
Get it wrong, and travel photography can become a stressful, gear-laden hassle that annoys your family and friends and spoils the entire trip. Nobody wants that, so how you can you develop your travel photography skills while still enjoying the experience?
1) Shoot less
It sounds counter-intuitive but more experienced photographers probably end up with fewer shots – but shots of higher quality. I was lucky enough to spend a bit of time in Kenya with the top photojournalist Gary Knight. While I was shooting everything in sight, he took his time, and spent a while chatting to a local farmer before even trying to take his picture.
So, think about quality rather than quantity, and be very fussy about what you allow into your frame. You'll conserve your energy, save card space and have much less junk to wade through at the editing stage.
2) Tell stories
What is the difference between a serious travel/documentary photographer and a tourist with a camera? Gear and skill, obviously, but serious travel photographers try to tell a story about a place they are visiting, rather than just producing a series of pretty, but essentially unconnected, images. The story is up to you, but start to think in a more narrative way.
Maybe it's about all the colourful street food vendors in Bangkok, the gondolas or the carnival in Venice, the taxis in London, and so on – these photo stories don't need to be depressing but they should give the viewer more of a sense of place than a bunch of random snaps.
3) Shoot familiar places in unfamiliar ways
What is the point of ANOTHER straight-on shot of the Taj Mahal or Angkor Wat? It's been done to death, and you are adding nothing new. Trying to get a clean shot without lots of other tourists in the way is very frustrating, too. Rather than wasting time on these 'box ticking' snaps, try to find a new angle on a famous place – a side shot, a shot from down a side street, a famous place with an interesting character in the foreground, and so on.
To get more interesting travel shots you need to be prepared to invest time and effort. Get up early while your travelling companions are asleep and really 'work' a famous place, rather than hoping to get interesting images during a whistle-stop coach tour. Early morning means better light too, especially in the tropics (and temples tend to open early there too).
4) Be a people person
Related to the above point, it's often images of the locals that really capture the essence of a place rather than another anodyne image of a famous tourist hot spot. So, to take your travel photography to the next level you need to conquer your shyness and start interacting with people in the hope of getting good portraits.
Even if you don't speak the language you can establish some communication; if you are are polite and respectful, it's surprising how many people will agree to be shot and if they refuse, don't take it personally. Obviously, do some research on local customs and religious sensibilities first.
5) The devil's in the detail
Often you can capture more of the essence of a place in detail shots rather than always trying to get the bigger picture. Shops, markets, bars and cafes, temples and churches can all yield great images.
Try creative camera techniques too, such as panning and motion blur – these are great for capturing the colour, dynamism and traffic of Southeast Asian cities, for examples. Don’t forget night shots too, particularly more creative ones involving traffic trails or cool flash effects such as rear curtain sync.