10 Tips For Better Travel Photos

Whether you’re headed to the big city nearby or across an ocean, shooting on location is a lot of fun, and full of photographic possibilities. These tips will help prepare you to make the most of your camera as you explore.

1. Shoot for HDR Images
As recently as a year ago, shooting for HDR (high dynamic range) images would not have been on the top of my city shooting list—or even on the list. Recently, however, I’ve dived into HDR big time because it’s so cool and so easy, and because city scenes are perfect for HDR.

This example is one of my favorite HDR shots, created from a series of five pictures: one taken at the recommended exposure setting, one taken under that setting, and three pictures taken at one-stop increments over the recommended settings.

New to HDR? Here are the basics:
Use a tripod; don’t change the aperture; bracket with the shutter speed; use the camera’s self-timer or a cable release; and take pictures at, over and under the recommended setting. Also, always shoot at a low ISO setting and remove chromatic aberrations before creating an HDR image.


2. Shoot Candid Photos and Posed Shots
Basically, we have two choices when taking pictures of people while traveling: posed pictures and candid shots. Me? I like to take both types of pictures. I like to take my time and work on nice travel portraits, and I also like to capture people being themselves.

Usually, I like to shoot when the light is soft and even, as illustrated by these pictures. That usually means shooting in the shade (or asking the subject to move into the shade). It also means shooting on overcast days, before sunrise and after sunset. If the sun is shining brightly, I’ll use a reflector or diffuser. As a last (but sometimes necessary) resort, I’ll use fill-flash to reduce the contrast range. And by the way, I never leave home without these accessories.

My favorite “people photography” lens is my Canon 24-105mm IS zoom lens. For portraits, I prefer the longer zoom settings. For candid photos, I might set it anywhere with the zoom range, depending how large or small I want the subject in the scene. These photographs illustrate the technique of placing the subject off-center. Remember: Dead center is deadly.


3. Make Pictures
When I first saw this ’57 Chevy, it was parked on a different street in harsh sunlight. To make this picture, I asked the owner to drive his car onto a different street to a spot I had picked out before. I asked him to pop the hood and trunk. I snapped off a shot, making one of my favorite city photographs. In other words, don’t be afraid to orchestrate a shot if you get a good idea.


4. Look for Creative Angles
When you’re out and about, look for creative and unique angles, using foreground elements as important subjects in a scene, rather than simply including a foreground element to add a sense of depth to a scene. Here I used the interior of a car as an important foreground element, and a city scene as the background. Without the foreground, the scene would have been pretty boring.


5. Don’t Be Shy
Simply put, you can’t be shy if you want to get great shots of people when traveling. As your parents probably told you, it never hurts to ask.

When I saw this couple hop in the back seat of a car, I knew I had to get a shot: She was cute, and he had on this great red shirt, which I knew would look cool in the blue car. I ran up to the driver and asked if I could hop in the front seat for a quick shot. I snapped off two shots, and hopped back out. For sure, this is one of my favorite fun people pictures.

6. You Snooze, You Lose
You’ll find great light throughout the day in a city, especially plenty of shade created by tall buildings. But, as always, you’ll get more dramatic light (low-angle sidelight) in the early-morning and late-afternoon hours. Get up early and skip the late-afternoon nap. My philosophy: You snooze, you lose—lose out on the most dramatic light of the day. Put yet another way, I tell people, “I can sleep when I’m dead!”

7. Get Everything in Focus
When I shoot city scenes, I usually like the picture to look as it looks to my eyes—everything in focus. To accomplish that goal, here’s what I recommend: Use a wide-angle setting on your zoom lens (here I set my 25-105mm lens at the 24mm setting); set small aperture (here I used ƒ/16); and set the focus 1?3 into the scene (here it’s slightly past the bumper on the foreground car).


8. Watch the Background
When photographing people, the background can make or break the scene. Here’s an example. The background in one photograph is too busy—the horizontal lines are distracting. That was the first photograph I took of this man—at the spot in which he was standing. For the second photograph, I asked the man to move just a few feet to the left, where the background was more pleasing and less distracting.

If the background is distracting and you can’t ask the subject to move, you can use a long telephoto lens set at a wide aperture to blur the background. Another option is to use software like Bokeh, a plug-in from Alien Skin that lets you blur the background beautifully.


9. Tote a Tripod
You’ll not only need a tripod for HDR images, but you’ll need one to steady your camera in low-light situations, which you’ll often encounter in a city. I use a tripod with a ballhead and quick-release bracket, so I quickly and easily can attach and detach my camera from the tripod. I also use a strap on my tripod, so I can tote it over my shoulder to keep my hands free.

10. Have Fun
As those of you who have been on my workshops know, I like to have fun! Sharing the pictures I take with my subjects makes the photo session fun—for me and for the subjects.

So, no matter how much you’re focused on getting a great shot, take the time, maybe before you get your “keeper,” to share your photos on your camera’s LCD monitor with your subjects.

Speaking of the LCD monitor, don’t judge the brightness of the picture by the picture you see on the monitor. Rather, use the histogram and overexposure warning to judge a good exp

Rick Sammon is the author of 34 books (at last count) and teaches workshops around the world. Visit with Rick at www.ricksammon.com.

Basic On-Location Gear

Here’s a look at some of my digital-photography travel gear. You may not need all this stuff, but I wanted to give you an idea of the gear commitment a serious on-location digital photographer needs to make.

  • Laptop loaded with image-editing program
  • Digital SLR, lenses and flash
  • Battery chargers
  • Memory cards
  • Memory card reader
  • Portable hard drive

Not shown (only prime gear in this photo): other lenses, flash diffuser, polarizing filter, batteries for flash, extra camera batteries, surge-suppressor power strip, tripod and camera bag.

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