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The Fine Art Of Travel Photography

Beautiful landscapes and cityscapes, as well as powerful photo essays, can be created by anyone with a camera, a concept and the desire to take memorable images
travel photography
NIGHT EXPOSURES: The Matterhorn from Zermatt, Switzerland. Many cities thrive at night and bring a different dimension to the travel experience. For cityscapes and architecture, use a low ISO, lock down the camera on a sturdy tripod, lock up the mirror of an SLR and use a cable release.

How does a photographer 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.

Big-Picture Thinking

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 creative space. Also, don’t become too planted in the place you happen to be standing when you come across a photographic opportunity. I’m constantly astral-projecting—envisioning how a shot from an alternate angle will look—as I’m exploring a particular photographic scenario. If there’s potential from that location, that’s where I’ll walk, climb, and at times, crawl to.

Depth Of Field

I often shoot in aperture-priority mode so I can be acutely aware of what I’ll have in focus, and just as importantly, what will be out of focus. You can lead the viewer through your image by careful control of the ƒ-stop. Creating a “bokeh” by 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 and landscapes.

travel photography
DEPTH OF FIELD: Bonito, Brazil. Shooting at a maximum depth of field can create unique perspectives, especially for stunning architectural shots and landscapes.

It’s important to remember that when you look through a DSLR, 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 facilitates faster auto and manual focus. But when you depress the shutter, and the lens goes to a smaller 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.


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