DA’s 10 Good Habits for Successful Travel Photography

PMPE 10 Good Habits for Travel Photography

by Yusuf Hashim

During our PhotoSafaris to Cambodia and Vietnam, and next year to Laos, Nepal and the Old Silk Road, Maxby and I try to tell our participants all of the hard lessons we’ve learned during our lifelong adventure in photography. We have a list of nearly a hundred good habits for successful Travel Photography. We also have similar lists for How to Compose a Compelling Picture, How to Shoot Better Street Photography, How to shoot Real Black and White, How to Shoot Landscape Photography, and also scores of other How to Shoot Situations, such as How to shoot Silhouettes, How to shoot Sunsets, How to shoot Sports, How to shoot Children, etc. etc.. Here are just 10 Good Habits to develop for Successful Travel Shots. We’ll give you the other 90 at the next PMPE4 in Laos.

1. Get up early in the morning. The best light for photography is sidelight because side lighting helps to give form, shape & texture to objects you are photographing. Crowds are also thinner in the morning, which allows you more perspectives to shoot. The light is best in the 3 hours after sunrise and the 3 hours before sunset. A Misty morning especially, is an opportunity for some really great photos.

One Misty Morning

One Misty Morning

2. Carry a good range of lenses so you can shoot from a wide angle view to a medium telephoto view. Primes are better & sharper. Leg zoom and a set of fast primes comprising 24mm, 50mm, 100mm and 200mm would be ideal. Alternatively a set of zooms such as a 16-35mm, 24-100mm and 70-200mm would be more convenient. This refers to the angle of view for FF bodies. Use your DSLR crop factor to find the equivalent angle of view for cropped frame sensors. A fast 50mm standard lens is also a good addition to your kit for those low light indoor shoots, as well as for creating pictures with excellent bokeh.

3. If you are paranoid like me, carry a spare body too, or at least carry a high end P&S in your travel kit. I’ve discovered that on many occasions, the pictures I shot with my P&S were much better than the ones shot with my high end DSLR. Sometimes a P&S is quicker and more convenient.

4. A laptop is too inconvenient to lug around. Besides the weight, you also have to worry about security. Invest in a good digital wallet. Forget the ones with the viewing screen. The OS for these image viewers sits on the HDDs and its not possible to change the HDDs when you need more space. Choose an image bank and Digital Wallet like the Nexto Ultra which allows you to simply buy a new notebook HDD from a local computer shop, to replace the built in HDD when it becomes full.

5. Carry a light tripod. And always use it. Nothing is more frustrating than to get a good shot and to discover when you get home, that it has been ruined by the shakes. Take heed. This is more common than you think. At least carry a monopod or a Gorillapod if you find a tripod is too inconvenient.

Daphne at Ha Long Beach, Vietnam

Daphne at Ha Long Beach, Vietnam

6. Dont shoot only wide angles with the focusing set to infinity all the time. Get in close and shoot interesting details too. Often close up details can give an interesting abstract feel to a photograph.

Steam Locomotive Wheel, Dalat Railway Station, Vietnam

Steam Locomotive Wheel, Dalat Railway Station, Vietnam

Steam Locomotive Engine, Dalat Railway Station, Vietnam

Steam Locomotive Engine, Dalat Railway Station, Vietnam


7. Shoot your subjects in both portrait and landscape modes. You’ll find it gratifying when you get home, to discover that you still have a choice to select which version is better.

Long Hai Beach & Fishing Village, Central Vietnam

Long Hai Beach & Fishing Village, Central Vietnam

Long Hai Beach & Fishing Village, Central Vietnam

Long Hai Beach & Fishing Village, Central Vietnam

8. Dont just shoot at eye level. Often, an unconventional perspective makes your picture more compelling. There are at least 6 perspectives that you can try out – shooting from below, from above, from the side, against the light, shooting a long view, or shooting close up. Here’s an old Master shooting blind, a potentially compelling image from a low angle, early one morning at Long Hai Beach in Vietnam, during a recent PhotoMalaysia PhotoSafari Experience (PMPE) Outing. A swivel LCD like on my G11 would be ideal for situations like these. I wish Kwannon would put a swivel LCD viewer on the 1DsM4. I’d certainly buy it if they did it.

Low angle

Low angle

9. It’s easy to shoot close up portraits with a long lens of interesting faces of people that you see in your travels. Summon up a bit of courage. Get in close, make friends with your subject, and get a more intimate shot with a wide angle lens like a 24mm too. A wide angle shot made with the camera held close to the subject makes you (and the viewer) feel that they are a part of the picture. Get low with a wide angle lens for a more compelling perspective. A wide angle shot puts the face in context by including a bit of the environment that your subject is in. A wide angle picture suggests your involvement in your shot. Using a telephoto on people gives a paparazzi feel to your image, suggesting a sneak and steal approach by photography cowards.

Rickshawman of Ho Chi Min City.  Night Shot with available light

Rickshawman of Ho Chi Min City. Night Shot with available light

10. Dont always keep your DSLR on Program or Full Auto modes. Use a large aperture to isolate your subject by blurring the background. Or use a slow shutter speed for some creative effects. Flash shouldn’t only be confined to night shots. Use flash in daylight to light up a back lighted subject, or a subject in shadows. Read your camera manual about how to use slow sync mode in poor light, to give extra time for your camera to record ambient light before the flash is fired to light up your main subject.

Clown of Colmar Tropicale

Clown of Colmar Tropicale

To learn more good habits for Travel Photography, consider joining one of the PhotoMalaysia PhotoSafari Experience excursions. Here’s a picture of some of the participants of PMPE3, in the middle of Vietnam, shooting the amazing Lake Dai Ninh clouded over with a thick morning mist. Definitely an unforgettable experience for most of us.

Dai Minh Lake

Dai Minh Lake

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  2. Pingback: Free Photography Tips to Savour from the Pros « Still Life

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