Thursday, March 26, 2009

Top 10: Tips for Travel Photography

For most people holidays are a time to unwind, relax and soak up the sun. For keen photographers, however, they're also an opportunity to indulge our passion and return home with pictures of a more exotic nature.

Whether you're hiking the Himalayas, braving the heat in India or skiing in the Rockies, there are ways of ensuring that you're fully prepared for the opportunities that present themselves.

1) Packing for Air Travel:  Pack as much of your kit as you can in a cabin regulation camera pack and carry it on board the plane with you. Heavy equipment and over-sized lenses are best packed in a hard case and checked into the aircraft hold.  You can disguise hard cases by placing them inside army style duffel bags.  Memory cards are unaffected by X-rays and you should have no problem passing them through airport security checks.

2) Power up:  Few cameras today operate without battery power. take at least one spare fully charged battery and, when traveling in less developed countries, buy cell batteries before you leave. Universal electrical adapters work in most countries but not all.  For example, South Africa and Botswana use a unique three-pin socket that requires a specific electrical adaptor. For power on the move buy an inverter.  This device plugs into the 12v socket in vehicles used for the cigarette lighter and enables the vehicle's battery to be used to power battery chargers, laptops and other electrical gear.

3) Use a Telephoto Lens:  When photographing people candid moments can be captured with a telephoto lens in the range of 100-300 mm, when the subject is unaware they are having their picture taken and their actions are more natural.  This is a particularly good technique to adopt when shooting people at work, such as fishermen mending nets, or market stall holders selling food or flowers.  Select a relatively wide aperture (ex: f/5.6) to minimize depth-of-field, which will help to isolate the subject from distracting background clutter.

4) Plan Ahead:  The more you research your destination the more time you will have taking photographs as opposed to trying to find suitable subjects.  Look at the pictures in travel books to see what sort of photography is possible, use the internet to identify tourist hotspots, and get in touch with the local tourist office for advice on where to go and what to see. Talk to people who've recently visited your destination for ideas and tips on what to shoot.

5) Ask Permission: When photographing people, particularly in regions of sensitive cultures, it is polite to ask permission.  Many people enjoy having their picture taken and will readily agree, striking several poses and even introducing you to their family and friends, who also may want a picture taken.  If shooting digitally show them the images in the LCD monitor and you'll be amazed at the positive reactions.

6) Avoid Crowds:  It's not always possible to avoid the tourist crowds but getting up and heading out early will often mean you missing the masses at popular tourist spots.  Most tourists venture out after breakfast, so set your alarm clock for dawn and make the most of the photogenic early morning light, when streets are clear of people and other everyday distractions.  You can apply the same rule later in the day, waiting for the crowds to return to their hotels and making the most of directional, late afternoon/early evening light.

7) Look for the Unusual:  keep your eyes peeled for the less obvious subjects that make for compelling images. For example, the displays of food on a market stall or the way light and contrast form designs and patterns on the side of a building.  Abstract interpretations of everyday scenes will make your images more appealing because they show the world in a different and unexpected light.

8) Sunrise and Sunset:  Everybody enjoys an evocative sunrise or sunset picture. Check the local papers or ask the people for the relevant times, which change throughout the year. The best way to pinpoint where the sun will rise and set is to use a special sunrise/sunset compass, which can be purchased via the internet or at any good photographic retailer.  This device points to true north and also gives an estimate of the position of the sun at sunrise/sunset for a number of different locations up to 50 degrees from the equator.

9) After Dark:  Cities in particular truly come to life after dark, so head out with a tripod to capture the atmosphere and energy of night time. You will need a tripod to keep the camera steady during lengthy exposures, and it's wise to use a remote cable release to fire the shutter, minimizing the likelihood of camera shake.  If shooting digitally, when using shutter speeds greater than 1 second, turn on the Noise Reduction function, which can be found in the menu of most current digital cameras.

10) Capture the Moment:  Every picture should tell a story.  Watch for scenes that encapsulate an emotion, such asa joyous moment or funny event, and be ready to capture them in the blink of an eye.  When trying to decide whether a scene is worth photographing, when looking through the viewfinder  ask yourself the question, "How would I cation this image?" If the only caption you can think of is a place name or species name, then the picture probably isn't worth taking. Photography is a form of communication, so try to included as much relevant information in your pictures as possible.