Friday, June 5, 2009

The Fine Art of Travel Photography

By Mark Edward Harris Published in Shooting
TO FLASH OR NOT TO FLASH: Nikon D3, AF Nikkor 20mm ƒ/2.8D, Nikon Speedlight SB-800
TO FLASH OR NOT TO FLASH: Nikon D3, AF Nikkor 20mm ƒ/2.8D, Nikon Speedlight SB-800
Beautiful landscapes and townscapes, as well as powerful environmental portraits and photo essays, can be obtained by anyone with a camera, a concept and the desire to do so. But how does one transcend the “I was here” imagery that’s often associated with travel photography and create fine-art images of places near and far?

From the dozens of workshops I’ve taught on the subject, as well as talking with—and carefully studying the work of—many of the great globetrotting lensmen and lenswomen in the field, I’ve developed a methodology that, when applied, should yield impressive and, at times, spectacular results.


I see a common failing with many beginning travel photographers. They’re so focused on the fascinating subjects before them that they forget about the basic rules of composition that make for a great photo. Look at the whole frame and use the space effectively. Ask yourself, If I were painting this scene, what would I include? What would I exclude? Treat the camera sensor you’re about to expose as your canvas. Thinking in these terms can take you to an elevated space creatively.

DEPTH OF FIELD: Nikon D3, AF Nikkor 85mm ƒ/1.8D


I often shoot in aperture-priority mode so I can be acutely aware of what I’ll have in focus. You can lead the viewer through your image by careful control of the ƒ-stop. Shooting with a minimal depth of field can be dramatic for close-up portraits, whereas a maximum depth of field can create its own unique perspectives, especially for dramatic architectural shots.

It’s important to remember that when you look through an SLR camera, you’re seeing the lens at its widest aperture, which translates as its shallowest depth of field. This lets in the maximum amount of light to provide a bright viewfinder image and allow for easy focus. But when you depress the shutter, and the lens goes to the selected ƒ-stop, those palm trees that were soft in the distance suddenly appear to be growing out of the heads of your subjects like antennas. Most cameras have depth-of-field preview buttons to see what your stopped-down lens will render in focus, but with enough practice and awareness, that knowledge will become second nature.


Early morning and late afternoon have always been the favorite times for professional photographers to shoot. It’s not just the warm Kelvin temperatures that create an inviting mood. It’s also the experience of documenting a town coming to life or transitioning to the night. Shadows from an angle are more pleasing on the eye than the harsh light of midday.

The middle hours of the day are a great time to photograph people in open shade or to explore museums and other interior locations that may benefit from stronger midday light flooding through windows and skylights.

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