Have you ever found yourself wishing you knew how to take better travel photos? Do you enjoy travel photography but you want to “up your game” a bit? Well, then…we have the advice you need! This post is the third in a four-week series loaded with our top travel photography tips for beginners. Today is all about our top travel photography tips while you’re on your trip and how to make the most of your trip.
Top Travel Photography Tips for Beginners – The Series
Our four part series covers the essential tips you, as a beginning travel photographer, will need from the time you’re planning your trip until you’re back home and sharing your images. The series will be organized into four parts:
Making The Most Of Your Travel Photograhy Trip
So now you’re on the travel photography trip that you’ve dreamed about for months, or maybe even years. Chances are you spent a lot of time in planning the trip and in getting to your destination – and a lot of money to make it all happen! If your trip is all about travel photography, it makes sense to follow some simple and practical tips for making the most of your travel photography trip. Here are some handy tips that will really help you improve your results.
1. Make A Shot List
I’ve been to Yosemite National Park three times in my life, each time separated by at least 4-5 years. The one thing I’ve shot on every trip? Yosemite Valley. I seem to forget that I’ve shot it before…and so I end up inadvertently capturing the same type of shots, at the same hour of the day, in the same conditions. I’ve had the same thing happen at the Chicago Botanic Garden. I get so enamored with the flowers and plants of a particular season, I don’t realize until I get home how many years in a row I’ve shot them. The. Same. Exact. Shot.
The flip side of that coin is when I find that I’ve visited a “once in a lifetime” destination, but left without certain shots I wanted to take. I get so wrapped up at what’s immediately in front of me, it’s sometimes hard to remember all the things that I wanted to see when I planned the trip.
Maybe there are certain animals you want to capture on a wildlife trip. Or certain flowers at a botanic garden. Or…well, you get the idea. Digital Photography School has a great article on preparing a shot list for your trip…tweak and tune the ideas to fit your specific needs. Knowing what you want to shoot – and getting it – will help you with making the most of your travel photography trip.
2. Shoot Early And Late
Making the most of your travel photography trip sometimes means compromising on sleep or on family time. You have to decide when it’s really a good time to shoot. But it can be very rewarding to be up and out before everyone else gets up, or to head out in the later hours of the day. Many travel photographers plan their shooting around two separate periods that produce very distinctive lighting:
The blue hour occurs at twilight – that period of time right before sunrise or right after sunset. During the blue hour the sun sits at somewhere between 1 and 18 degrees below the horizon. As the name implies, this leads to rich blue skies, sometimes with orange and red splashes mixed in. Photos taken in the blue hour have a coolness to them which suggests calm, a sense of reflection, and a period of contemplation. This period of time works well for long exposures, which create streaks of clouds and can smooth out the surface of rough waters. The smooth and dreamy feeling of a long exposure can enhance the emotional appeal of a blue hour image.
The blue hour is a misnomer, in that it typically only lasts 20 minutes or so. It’s best to be at your location well before the blue hour starts in order to get prepared for your shot. You’ll also want to make sure you have a tripod with you in order to capture long exposure images.
- The golden hour occurs right after sunrise and right before sunset.
At this point in the morning or evening the sun is above the horizon, and the dark blues of the blue hour are gone. While the golden hour can indeed last as long as an hour, the best light is in the first 20-30 minutes of the hour. During this period of time you’ll find the colors run from red and orange to a deep, rich yellow. Everything in your image will be enhanced with a warm light.
The warmer light creates emotions of love, acceptance, and the joy of life. Photographing wildlife, birds and people are all best done during the golden hour.
Can you shoot in the middle of the day? Yes. If that’s the only time available to you, it’s better than not getting the shot at all. You will, however, need to realize that images shot in the middle of the day will generally have one of two lighting effects. Either the images will have gray and steady light due to overcast conditions, or will have areas of stark brightness with highly contrasting dark areas due to strong overhead light you experience on cloudless days.
3. Take Good Notes
Trust me…you won’t remember the name of that flower, or that mountain, or the building you’re shooting. When you travel you end up seeing so many new things, your brain can get overloaded. And while you think you’ll always remember “that place,” it will slip out of your memory before you know it.
Taking good notes is key to remembering not only what you shot, but also for remembering your trip overall. When we visited Tanzania in 2016, I carried the camera and my wife carried a small notebook and a pencil. I’d get a good shot of a bird or a land animal, and more often than not our guide would rattle the name off the top of his head. We’d copy down the name, something about the animal’s habitat and their distinctive features, and then go on to the next area.
I’m a real stickler for having the Latin names (the binomial nomenclature, if you want to get fancy) of all the living stuff I photograph. Writing down the names while I’m in the field makes it easier for me to catalog and publish my photos online with the proper names.
I also find that writing down the name of buildings or distinguishing landmarks helps me tell the story when I return home from a trip. A Google search on the name will often tell me things about the surrounding area – which, again, helps me recall various parts of the trip.
4. Move Up, Down and All Around
When we as photographers are shooting in hand-held mode, the tendency is to stand up straight with the camera at or near normal eye level. This isn’t bad…but just realize that there are literally an infinite number of other angles from which you can shoot.
If you’re shooting flowers – get down low. Bring a towel or a paper bag to save your clothes, and get down in the dirt. If you’re shooting a landscape image, try getting onto a chair or bench. Do be courteous and wipe off your feet before doing it, though. Rather than taking a shot straight on, walk from side to side and see what the landscape might look like from a different angle.
Remember that you’re shooting digital, and each shot is free – so take as many as you can, from as many different angles and directions. You’ll be surprised at how much your photography improves by just moving around a little.
5. Ask Before You Shoot
A lot of times in life, it pays to ask for forgiveness and not permission. In photography – not always. Photography can permanently record some of the most intimate, precious or emotional times in the lives of people. Even if you’re shooting a landscape, be aware of the people who might be in the shot, and make them aware that they will be photographed. Doing this might also help you get a scene that’s free of people – again, if you ask nicely, the chances are good that people will step out of your shot.
As some have pointed out, there are also legal restrictions in some areas of the world as to what you can and can’t photograph. I’ve used a tripod to do close-up architecture shots of buildings in New York, Chicago and San Francisco among other cities. I’ve learned the hard way that being too close to the building with a tripod will instantly draw building security…and in some cases, possibly even law enforcement. Sidewalks in most major cities are considered public walkways, but once you step on the grounds of a building (even outside of it) you’re in a private area. Trust me – if a building security guard tells you that you’re in an area where you can’t use a tripod, trust them.
Many national monuments have similar restrictions. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC is constructed of marble and its floors are nearly pristine white, even after all these years. The National Park Police do not take kindly to photographers placing tripod feet on the marble – even when said feet are covered in rubber. Don’t even try laying your tripod down on the floor of a national monument – again, you’ll run the risk of getting ejected from the facility and/or of getting a ticket. It’s just not worth it.
Top Tips for Beginning Travel Photographers: What’s Coming Next Week?
Next week we’ll close out this series with our top tips for cataloging and processing your photos when you return from your trip. We hope you’ve enjoyed the series so far – please share your thoughts about the series in the comments below!