I recently gave a talk to a camera club on Great Travel Photos and the preparation for it helped me to pull together my experience from years of travel and photos. Below I have started to list the lessons I have learned. So if you are a family about to go on the holiday of a lifetime or you are about to go out for a day and you think you might take some photos then here are my top ten lessons that I am confident they will help you take better photos.
Lesson One. I have been traveling for years but it's only been in the last 15 or so have I really been carrying a camera and the last 10 I have been positively going out to take photos. There is the first lesson, always, yes always carry a camera. That might be just a camera phone or a cheap compact but always carry one when traveling. Sorry for being a bit basic here but when you are in Las Vegas and Darth Vader and two storm troopers are on the stairs next to you and you have left your camera behind you remember it. Obviously I could show you a great photo but I did not have a camera. Now if the area is a little dangerous you might have to hide your camera a little and maybe trade down to your smaller compact but still carry it.
Lesson Two. Think photo, think 7 by 5, think what can I see that makes a good image. Open your eyes and your mind to a world of photos and not just passive motion through life. At a higher lever think. Do not only take a physical record shot, try harder to take what is an impression of what you see and feel. My best example of this is my shot of two Japanese ladies rushing across a road crossing in Japan. The shot captured the legs blurred with also a great handbag. For me it summed up the centre of Tokyo which was lots of people, smartly dressed, rushing around shopping. So lesson two is almost a skill that one learns over time and is very subjective and individual. That is think of finding the image that captures your impression of the area. Just think how many millions of photos are being taken each day, try and make yours different!
Lesson Three. Try and get any lines, i.e. rail tracks leading in from the corners. It just seems to make photos work. I challenge you to take three photos. In the first put one with the rail track, wall or pavement edge in the corner and the other two increasingly out of the corner... Have a look at the results on a big screen and I bet you prefer the first shot. So lesson three, leading lines into the corners.
Lesson Four. There you on the Great Wall of China, it's early in the morning and wow there you are start shooting. Well not quite. I find a photo without drama fails. So unless the weather is dramatic you need people. So you will find that generally my shots of the Great Wall, at least the ones I kept and published have people in them. Why because they bring life, scale and cultural diversity to the location. So lesson four is add people to your travel shot. Ahh if only it was that simple. Strangely I find a single person or a few is good...say 1-3 helps. However anything else less than a large number can in many instances distract. I do not know why but that's how I feel. Try for yourself and see what you think. This might require you to wait a while for people to get into or out of a shot, but the results are better.
Lesson Five. Camera settings is a large topic and a hard one to give advice on. However I have learned one generic lesson. If you are shooting something really key do so with a few different settings. There I was about to get into a helicopter to fly into the Grand Canyon. Would the vibration on board blur the shots? Would the auto focus simply find the windows and not the canyon? It was a once in a lifetime flight what do you do. Lesson five shoot with different settings the same scene. I used auto without flash, landscape auto mode and also a speed mode that had a faster shutter than landscape. In the event all three worked OK. However there has been other times where say it was just one of the three gave anything worth working with... So shoot auto and manual and cover yourself.
Lesson Six. There you are in front of the pyramids. Your partner has agreed they want a photo.,The children understand its photo time and are willing. You have 20 seconds to get the shot before they get bored or simply walk off. Preparation is key. You might have a user defined mode available on your camera or simply a portrait mode. If you can also Set your camera on a burst shooting mode. Be direct and get your subjects to stand in specific spots. A line is best so that they are all in focus. Stand about 4-5m away, zoom in a little and focus. Check that either everyone's feet and heads are in the shot or you are going just head a shoulders. I tend to raise a little finger and ask the group to all look at the finger. I then shoot a burst of say five shots. I then lower my camera and say that's it done. If you do not they do not know if you have finished and get annoyed and that affects your next photo... Lesson six is preparation is key, be quick and just hope it works. The bit that spoils this lesson is when the background is bright and you need fill in flash to brighten the faces etc. Here you might only get one or two photos due recharge time on the flash.
Lesson Seven. The greatest travel photos are taken at the right times of day. However as someone on say holiday your visit to say the White House or the Golden Gate Bridge is probably limited to the time of your flight, tour party bus or when your helicopter lands in the Canyon. Almost all the time you have to accept the lighting that is there at the time. recently I briefly visited Sydney and it rained almost the entire time. There I was at the Sydney Opera House and the grey sky simply dulled the brilliance of the building to a dull mush. I took photos anyway but also worked with what I had. I came back in the evening and in a brief spell of no rain some night shots worked out. Lesson seven is to work with what you have and make the best of it. You will not get the greatest travel shots in the world but you can get some great travel photos.
Lesson Eight. For success at anything in life there are three related factors. Firstly work ethic. If you do not take lots of photos, carry your camera, think photo and just do it, then you will never get a great travel photo. Secondly if you do not learn the skills to take a great photos, be that knowing technically your camera or having the skill to see a shot in the scene in front of you, then it will not work either. The third factor is that of luck. Yes you have to be lucky. My photo of a vagrant on Wall Street is a case in point. I spent the entire day shooting hundreds of photos. So the work ethic is there. I had my compact camera and had it set on the correct modes to get shots. I was also thinking photos and looking out for photos. Finally I was lucky as the person I was taking a photo of looked right into the lens just as the shot was taken. To be clear I had pressed the button and only then did the person look up. So there you have it. An award winning photograph is the result of skill, work ethic and simple LUCK! That photo is one of my personal favourites.
Lesson Nine. Get it right in the camera. Now I should really learn how to edit photos to a higher level. I will admit I am weak in this area. I do little editing apart from to generally crop, straighten, brighten and boost colours. My work flow is fast. I simply star the ones I like, then look through these and either edit them or sort further. I keep and publish between 5-10% of what I shoot. It takes me about an hour to go through say 200 photos. If I have a really good photo I might then edit it using one of the various software packages available. For me the lesson is to get it right in the camera and not to rely on software to make a great photo.
Lesson Ten. Backup your stuff. However you do it back it up onto three sources that are separate. Some people can do this automatically. I have a laptop and two external hard drives. The choice is yours of course but having lost a laptop to a computer virus that simply wiped everything I have seen the dark side.
So there we are, some lessons I have learned on how to take better travel photos.
A little off the wall, but they are all the better for it.
I hope in a small way to help you get your very own Great Travel Photos.