Everyone and their grandma has a smartphone with a decent camera. But travel photography isn’t just about pointing and shooting in the right direction or pinching your fingers at the perfect spot over the dome of the Taj Mahal! Here’s a ready reckoner for making your travel pics pop.
These days, it’s neither the journey nor the destination that counts. It’s what images you bring back to immortalise your travel itinerary. Whether you want to sit your friends down on the couch while you show them a slideshow or share your adventures on social media for your followers to see in real time, planning how to take photos of your trip is perhaps just as important as getting your booking done early.
Getting the right equipment
With smartphone cameras getting more and more sophisticated by the day, most amateur photography enthusiasts have all the power they need in their pocket. Just make sure you have enough storage space to accommodate all the pictures and videos you want to shoot. Some prefer to add a point and shoot compact digital camera with video capability and some amount of zoom to the mix. And then there are the action buffs for whom a GoPro works best. Of course, there are the ‘serious’ photographers who bring their DSLR and all the paraphernalia with them on a trip.
Whatever you choose, don’t forget the right battery chargers and a travel adapter that fits all sorts of sockets. If your camera’s brand new and you are travelling internationally, it would be wise to carry the sales receipt so that you don’t have problems with customs on your return journey. If you’re using memory cards, pack more than you estimate you’ll need, just in case you go click crazy or there’s a malfunction in one. Carry a light folding umbrella so that you can protect your camera in case it rains.
Packing it all in
Whether it’s a compact or DSLR, you’ll want to keep your camera with you for safety as well as for impromptu pictures. Carry the main body in your carry-on luggage for a flight in a secure pouch along with a memory card. The other equipment can go into your check-in suitcase. If you need additional lenses depending on the kind of place you’re visiting and the images you expect to shoot, you might want to carry a separate camera bag with all the equipment. But make sure you don’t let this out of your sight, not even when you visit the washroom, as it presents an easy target for thieves who know the value of a good camera. Also don’t carry all your camera equipment just because you have it! Remember the old adage that goes ‘those who travel light, travel far’.
Getting set to go
Once you have reached your destination and are readying yourself for a day of sightseeing, you need to understand where you will be going and shortlist what you will need. For example, if you are going trekking through dense forest you may not want to carry your entire kit with you but just the equipment that will allow you to take pictures in low light. If you’re off to the beach or the mountains, you may want to take your wide-angle lens to shoot some beautiful landscapes. Extra cells and memory cards are a must, of course, as Murphy’s Law usually ensures that you run out of one of the two just when you spot the tiger or the parade’s best float is coming up in front of you.
The finer points of shooting
We won’t go into the technical finer points of photography as that is something you can enrol in a course for or gain through experience. Let’s focus on how travel photography differs from what you do in the luxury of your home or studio. What happens when you’re in familiar territory is that you’re able to control all the factors that go into making a great image. You know exactly what time the early morning sunlight will give your picture that golden glow.
You can take hours to plan a composition and fine tune all the elements. You know that if you want to capture images of a certain sort of person, say an elderly woman who has cats, she’s to be found in a particular place (the shabby apartment on the fourth floor). But while you’re travelling everything is new and unfamiliar and taking pictures is a challenge on many levels. Let’s analyse each in detail…
Time: This is the absolute crux of travel photography. You almost never have enough time to linger over a click. You have to think quickly and act even quicker. Landscapes, objects of interest, memorable moments, they’re all there for a few seconds or minutes, and unless you capture them when you can, they will be lost forever. That’s what the Decisive Moment is all about.
If you don’t press the ‘trigger’ at the exact moment that that tiger looks your lens in the eye, you lose out. If you don’t shoot the snow-capped mountain speak while the sun emerges from behind a cloud to shine on it, you will miss the magical moment. If you wait a second longer to see whether the children do something more interesting than pulling the faces they are right then, you will forgo the funny picture. So, if you think there’s something worth shooting, make sure you do it fast. In the digital age, this is not expensive, so you can really let yourself go (but only as much is your memory capacity allows, of course!).
Also, most of us have travel companions and if they are not photography enthusiasts, it can prove to be quite a task to balance your need to stop every 10 minutes to train your camera on an interesting subject and their need to rush on and keep to a schedule. With a little bit of homework, this can be a win-win situation for all.
You can find out when they will be doing things that you are not so enthused by and plan a photographic excursion for yourself in that period. For example, if your companions are going to be visiting the British Museum in London, you can go along with them take a quick look around and get some shots of the futuristic ceiling and some of the principal exhibits and then quickly step out to shoot candid shots of passersby, roasted chestnut vendors, squirrels in a park nearby, or architecture, whatever takes your fancy.
You could even skip a part of the itinerary altogether and fix to meet with a group later on a holiday. If you want to capture the resort or hotel you’re staying in or the surrounding areas, take advantage of the early morning light by heading out to shoot while your companions are still asleep. This way you will have the images you want and won’t hold up anyone else later in the day.
Lighting: Available light photography is an art in itself and you should congratulate yourself if even half of your travel pictures turn out well. How often have you wished that you visited the beautiful lake when the sun wasn’t directly overhead or the temple of Abu Simbel in Egypt when the sun was shining on the larger-than-life figures rather than directly into your eyes from behind them. Sometimes you can still get the picture you like by changing the settings on your camera or using a different lens. You could even take a long detour to go around objects and face them from another side so they aren’t against the light.
In case of darkened interiors, you could take the picture as best you can and then edit the image later to bring it up to speed. But sometimes it’s wise to realise that the picture is just not going to be a worthwhile one and that you should let go of it. In travel photography, wisdom is knowing when to be persistent and, also when it’s pointless to try further.
Composition: Unlike your home turf where you have ample time and space to envisage a picture and compose it to perfection, travel pics need especially quick decision-making skills. Do you want to shoot that boat while it’s approaching or after it’s drawn up close to your own? Do you want to include the bird in the foreground or not? Do you want the base of the building or the top? Ideally, you may want a lot of things, but it all depends on the limitations of your camera position while shooting and how much time you have for clicking the picture.
For example, with my old compact camera I shot a lot of beautiful buildings while travelling in Italy and Germany but while the images made me happy, they were not technically sound, as I tilted the camera upwards while shooting. So, while I was pleased that I didn’t have the street clutter at the base of my frame, it also meant that I didn’t have the buildings in their entirety. Also, the stately lines of the towering buildings tapered towards the top.
If I had had more time and the freedom to get off the vehicle I was in each time I wanted to click, I may just have got technically correct pictures. In fact, a seasoned photographer once told me how he got permission from the building opposite to shoot from their terrace. Obviously, that’s a luxury very few travel enthusiasts will have, so you have to learn to improvise and make the best of the situation.
I would recommend doing some homework on what is considered correct in the photographic community and then use that as a general guideline while you’re capturing your journey. At the same time, I believe that your picture should be an extension of your own personality and holiday experience. So it’s okay to relax the rules just so you can grab a shot of the breathtakingly beautiful Asian Barred Owlet even though there’s a branch cutting into the frame. Or to click a hurried picture of the candy pink Hawa Mahal through the glass as your vehicle races past it in Jaipur. These may never be competition photos, but they will hold value for you, nevertheless.
Processing and posting your photos
Now that you have shot all the pictures you want and weeded out the ones that you don’t think make the mark, you need to transfer them onto your computer or an external hard drive. You could do this while on the trip itself if you’re lugging your laptop and have the time. Doing it at the end of every day, will actually help keep images sorted and not become an overwhelming task once you’re back to the daily grind.
If you haven’t already gone live from location through the day or done a few reels, you may want to set aside some time to quickly edit and post a few highlights of the day to keep your social media crew invested in your adventure. This also helps to connect with the local community. There have been so many times when someone has commented on my post and recommended something incredible at the destination that I may not have known about had it not been for my post, the hashtags that connected me to others in the region, and their proactivity in responding!
Once you’re back home and have more time, you can separate all your pictures and videos into daily albums or by theme and shortlist your best images. For the amateur photographer, this could be a combination of technically good ones as well as those that capture memorable moments and places. Don’t do an unconsidered photo dump on social media. Trust me, nobody – not even your mum! – wants to see 30 pictures of you in various poses in front of the Eiffel Tower. So, make sure you only select those that will hold the interest of the viewer.
Every image usually needs a bit of tweaking. You could learn to colour correct using an image processing software or use apps that will do it for you. Most social media sites offer their own editing tools and filters, so it’s quite easy.
Once you have worked on them and made them the best they can be, you’re ready to roll. Apart from sharing on social media where you will get the most gratification from the number of ‘likes’ they garner, you could also go old school and trot
across to a processing lab and get professional prints of our best ones, which you can frame for your home, which will give them longevity as talking points about your travels when you have people over.
After all, the thing about travel pictures is the more people that appreciate them, the more satisfaction you’ll probably get from them!
- Use colour. A bright background is great for doing a posed picture of yourself, solo or with your travel buddies. Like a graffiti wall in Melbourne. A red phone booth in London. If your clothes contrast with the background, even better!
- Use props. Pick out something local and fun to pose with. Food and drink usually work well to add some local flavour. Literally. Like a jalebi in old Delhi. Or an ice-cream-filled trdelnik in old Prague.
- Invite people. Ask locals politely if you can take their pictures or include them in your frame. Traditional clothes and unique facial features make for great travel pictures, but people are not props. Repeat to yourself: People are not props!
- Avoid clichés. Everyone is tempted to do those pictures pinching the top of monuments. Or make the victory sign or the heart sign with your fingers. But even if you think you’re doing it ironically, it’s still a cliché! Find something original to do with your hands when posing for pictures on holiday.
- Delete as you go: You will never need all 55 images of that amazing waterfall. So, keep the one or two best ones and delete the rest while you’re waiting for your lunch or the next flight.