Thursday, April 3, 2014

7 Tips for Travel Photography

Travel Photography - by Jonathan Stewart

Nomad, Terelj National Park, Mongolia

There’s no surefire path to great travel photography, which is why I enjoy it so much.  You’re surrounded by novel and exotic scenes, but you’re at the mercy of the weather, the light, and the vagaries of chance.  Before each and every trip, there comes a moment of terror where I fear I won’t capture any images worthy for sale, worthy of my previous work.   Will I make a mistake at a critical moment?  Will I have favorable conditions?  Will I actually see anything worth photographing? There are so many factors beyond the travel photographer’s control that you can only seek to minimize the variables. 

Tip 1: Know your gear inside and out.  I won’t get into a general photography tutorial here, but you’ve got to know how to handle your camera’s every function, and to do it in a hurry.   Beyond shutter speed, aperture and ISO, this means metering, focusing and drive modes, plus white balance.  Learn them, live them, love them.  There shouldn’t be a button or a menu setting that you don’t understand.

Tip 2:  Manual mode is the way to go, but there are exceptions.  I rely on manual mode about 99% of the time, but I’m not afraid to use aperture-priority to save precious milliseconds, such as during street photography in changing light.  I’ll even throw it into full auto if I don’t have time to adjust settings to catch a fast-changing scene, such as a bird or jet flying overhead.  Getting the shot is priority #1, screw the purists.

Tip 3:  Select the right gear.  This means understanding how focal length affects your shot, and anticipating the conditions you’ll be shooting in.  I prefer the fast aperture and superior image quality of prime lenses over the convenience of zooms.  Typically I’ll bring 3-5 lenses, depending on what I’m shooting, although it’s hard to resist the temptation to bring more.  It helps to cheat and Google what other people have shot in similar environments to get an idea of what to bring.   Each lens has a personality, and the better you understand it and when it’s most called for, the easier it is to pack.  Even if you shoot zooms, it’s always a good idea to bring at least one fast prime for low light situations. 

Gurung woman, Nepali hill country

Tip 4:  Engage the people you meet.  You’ll be amazed how easy it is to talk to people when you’re holding a camera, if only you try.  Most people appreciate a respectful request for a photo, followed by a little conversation, during which they will lower their guard so you can get natural-looking shots.  Learning how to ask for a photograph in whatever language is spoken is the most important thing you can learn, and a great icebreaker.  I also hand out business cards (without my phone number – I learned that one the hard way), with my website and Facebook page, so people can see my work, and potentially themselves. 

Tip 5:  Be a good person.  Even if I’m legally able to take a picture of somebody or something, I refrain if it’s inappropriate or they request that I don’t.  Never lose your sense of humanity – it serves you well in composing an emotional image, and it should guide you when it’s best to put the camera away.

Peru’s Qoylluri’ti Festival

Tip 6:  Always be on the lookout for a great composition.  It may be the end of a long day, you’re tired, you’ve taken 1000 pictures already, you’re driving 70MPH, but if you see something interesting, don’t let it pass you by.  Stop and take the shot, you’ll never get another chance. You’re a photographer – think like one!

Tip 7:  Take your time editing, but have an efficient workflow.  To me, editing is a chore, but it’s one I try to take very seriously.  When you get back from a trip with thousands of photos, it’s essential to have an efficient editing workflow.  I typically edit every day after shooting on the road, then transfer my images as a catalog to my office computer once I get home, saving all my changes.  Then I go over all the images once more, often salvaging great shots that I missed in the first go-round.  I’ll also change and improve the edits I’ve already done.  After a two-week trip, I’ll put in at least 3-4 days of editing once I get home, even if that means reducing 5000 photos to 50.  It’s a matter of personality, but I prefer to do this as soon as possible so I don’t lose the inspiration.  

About the author  
Jonathan just returned from a photographic trip to Mongolia and Russia’s Siberia in the winter.  His work can be seen at  
Please give his Facebook page a like at

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