Travel Photography: 5 Tips to Improve Your Holiday Snaps
When you think about the great travel photographers, or the kind of images that you see in guide books or travel magazines, they share one thing in common – they manage to capture the spirit of a location and get under its skin.
The best travel images give you a window into the local culture. In other words they tell a story, which is something a postcard or a casual smartphone snap is rarely able to do. So, how do you go about getting under the skin of a place, particularly if you are on holiday and time is short?
1) Do your research
With the internet everywhere, there is no excuse for not boning up on a place before you visit. You don't need to do a PhD in temples, but a bit of background research will help you identify photo opportunities and stories. It will save you time when you get there, and as we will see, time is the most precious commodity for the serious travel photographer.
Angkor Wat, for example, is home to quite a large community of homeless people, some of whom lost their parents or livelihoods during the terrible years of the Khmer Rouge – but you'd be lucky to discover this just by flicking through a tourist guidebook when you arrive.
2) Give yourself time
Travel photographer Gavin Gough says the biggest advantage he has over an equally talented photographer who is visiting the same place as a tourist is TIME. He can spend a week at a temple, following the monks' routines and working out the best times (and places) to shoot.
You can't expect to compete with people like Gavin if you are just visiting a place for an hour or two as part of a guided tour. So, give yourself time to get under the skin of a place. Rather than trying to photograph six temples in Burma, maybe choose one (after doing the kind of research discussed in point one) and put in the time there.
Fifteen great images from one place are much more valuable to you as a photographer than 50 average images from lost of different places.
3) Get advice from other photographers
Most photographers, particularly enthusiast photographers, are happy to share their advice and experiences, particularly when it comes to travel. So, don't be shy about asking for tips and recommendations.
It's worth going to a proper site for photographers and film makers though, such as Lightstalkers, rather than a general travel site such as TripAdvisor. I've saved a lot of time and money by listening to the advice of helpful travel photographers like Darragh Mason Field and there are many more people like him haunting online travel-photography communities.
4) Consider hiring a local fixer
This may sound like a radical step, but if you are serious about travel photography, hiring a knowledgeable local can save you a lot of time and money. Steve McCurry, arguably the finest travel photographer of the last 30 years, swears by his fixers, and is happy to use reliable ones time and time again. Not only can they take you straight to the most photogenic places, but they can help you interact with the locals, and put your subject much more at their ease.
In India, South-East Asia and other parts of the developing world, even a high-quality fixer can be hired for relatively little outlay, and if you go on to sell some pictures or win some awards, they will soon pay for themselves. Again, lightstalkers.org and recommendations from other photographers are a great way to find fixers. If you cant find one, make some effort to interact with the locals, even if you don't speak the lingo.
Spend some time with them, and don't immediately stick a long lens in their face. You will get much better shots when they start to relax and be themselves.
5) Walk, walk and walk again
My final tip is pretty simple. Get some good walking shoes and spend some time walking around where you are shooting. Even if you are working in a tourist hotspot you can often get great shots if you go off the beaten track. Again, working alone or with other photographers, rather than being subject to the timetable of a tour group, makes this much easier. Don't end up missing your bus, train or plane, though!