Here are some tips to improve your travel photography, that have nothing to do with taking the actual photograph.
- Research where you are going and have a good idea of what you would like to see and do, before you leave on your trip. Don’t forget to check out local festivals and celebrations. If there are any events or markets you would like to visit, know where and when they occur so you can plan for them. Once you arrive at your destination, check out the tourist office, newspapers and handouts for additional and updated information.
- Make a list, before you depart, of what you would like to photograph to capture a sense of the place you are visiting. Use this list to help you determine which lenses and other gear to bring along and to plan your days once you arrive at your destination. Consider a wide variety of shots such as viewpoints, monuments and landmarks, close-up details, street scenes, markets, buildings, people, events, food, scenic landscapes, cityscapes, and animals. Check the internet to see what kind of photographs other photographers have taken at your travel destination, to give you some ideas. Once you are on your trip, use this list as your checklist of shots, to be sure you get the photographs you have envisioned, and to keep you focused on all the possibilities.
- Remember to charge all of your batteries and clean your camera, camera sensor, and lenses before you leave for your travels. Charge your batteries right before you leave, as they lose power over time. Don’t forget to keep your lens clean throughout each day while traveling. Always keep a cleaning cloth and small brush with you.
- Pack extras. Extra batteries, extra chargers, extra lens caps, extra camera body. See my previously published article on this subject.
- Don’t forget your camera manual, or store a pdf. of it on your phone or laptop computer.
- Know your camera. Be able to change settings in little to no light, without looking at dials and menus. Make sure your firmware is up-to-date for your cameras and all of your lenses.
- Be aware of weather conditions and how to protect your gear. Humidity and extreme cold can affect your camera and lenses, as well as rain and snow, or a strong wind on a sandy beach.
- Reserve hotels with views, so you don’t have to rush out early in the morning everyday for a sunrise shot or stay out late for sunset.
- Know the carry-on limitations for the aircraft you are flying before you leave. Smaller planes, like regional jets, have limited overhead bin space and you may be required to check your carry-on at the gate, even though it is within the size limits for the airline. In other words, you may need a smaller carry-on bag than you would otherwise think or even a shopping bag. If there is no other way except to check your bag I strongly recommend using a hard-sided carry-on. In any scenario, you don’t have to specifically use a bag designed for cameras, as long as you make sure you have sufficient padding to protect your gear. There are all sorts of options available on Amazon, including padded bags and wraps, and camera bag inserts.
- Once you arrive at your destination, plan each day before you leave your hotel room. Determine the sun’s location and where the light is best different times of day. Try to avoid the tourist rush at popular sites and neighborhoods. Anticipate what photographs you will be taking, the weather, and if you will be returning to your hotel during the day. By planning ahead you will be able to more easily decide what camera gear to bring. Decide upon your initial camera settings and which lens you want to begin with, so you are ready to take a picture the minute you leave your hotel room.
- If you find that you have a habit of forgetting extra memory cards and batteries, or of leaving a battery in the charger or a memory card in a card reader or computer slot, put a sticky note on your camera each night that reminds you not to forget.
- Don’t rush. Take your time and get a sense of the place you are visiting. Take a local walking tour to get greater insight, and to ask questions.
- Open up to people. Be warm and friendly. It’s the best way to get people to say “yes” when you ask if you can take their photo.
- Download a phone app that will show you the sun’s location throughout the day. I use The Photographer’s Ephemeris.
- Engage the services of a local photographer or guide, or join a photography workshop. Those “in the know” will show you the hidden gems and will be able to translate for you if you are in a country that does not speak your language. They should also be able to get you to the right place at the right time to photograph the images from your checklist of shots.
- Back-up your images at the end of each day. You never know when a memory card will fail.
- Use good locks on your bags, and common sense in safe-guarding your equipment. Buy camera insurance, so if gear is stolen you will be able to more easily replace it for your next trip. Photography trade organizations, such as the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA), offer insurance programs to members. Look for coverage that will include your mobile devices and your laptop.
In a nutshell, all of these tips amount to one thing–Be Prepared. After spending so much time and money on travel, it seems crazy to leave everything to luck.