Having spent thousands of dollars on a dream vacation at some pristine holiday destination we come home thinking that the images we took would remain a constant source of reminder of that wonderful time spent together. That’s until we download the images on to a computer. A shocker awaits us. A number of under-exposed images, that mostly have our faces barely recognizable, welcome us. This to be only bettered by a bunch of over-exposed photos where everything seems to be coated with a blinding flash light further depresses us. Not to mention the half-hearted compositions, that have everything going for them but for the background, cluttered, boring and plain shocking at times. Really, our travel photos can be so depressing at times that the whole mood of coming back from a great vacation can be lost in just a few minutes. Most people would be inclined to think that it is their camera that should be blamed. “Boy, I wish I had a better camera!” Well, dear friend, that’s an excuse and nothing more. Your camera is only as good as you are with it. If you know how to shoot great pictures you would do a much better job with a simple 5 megapixel phone camera than someone who wields a 5D Mark III and knows nothing about how to use it.
1. Start researching even before you book your tickets
I know it is a very difficult thing, especially, if you are travelling with your family. There are so many things to take care about. Set auto responder on work email, redirect the phone, make hotel reservations, print the tickets, confirm the transfers, double check the hotel amenities, pack your bags, your spouse’s bag, your kids’ bags, phew! There is simply no time after that to actually research about the place and find good photo locations. The only time you can do some thinking about it is when you lean back on your plane seat and close your eyes.
As impossible as it might seem, if you plan on making great travel photos, you’ve got to plan in advance. I always start planning about the best photo locations even before the tickets are actually booked. Unless you are planning on just spending a few days blissfully doing absolutely nothing, in which case you should not be reading this article, start making your photo-plans along with your vacation plans or at least immediately after you have settled down on the destination.
Let’s say you are travelling through India and plan to make a stop-over at Agra. While the reality is that Agra is not actually a stop-over but a destination and a visit to the main mausoleum complex is an absolute must; you should also plan on the fringe attractions – places such as Mahtabh Bagh which is just across the Yamuna and offers a panoramic side view of the Taj Mahal.
2. Get to know the local culture, practices and a few local words
You wouldn’t believe the effect it has on people when you speak their language, even if it is just a few but coherent words. If you are travelling through India and happen to meet an interesting individual ask the words, “Ek photo?” requesting for permission to take a picture and then follow it up with “shukriya!” meaning thank you, after he/she acknowledges. You will probably bring up a smile on the face of the individual as well.
3. Wake up early
I know this is obviously asking for too much to do on a vacation. But if you are planning to show off the images you took on your dream vacation you will have to plan on getting up early. The early morning light works its magic casting a soft golden glow that creates all sorts of magical color tones across the landscape. It is the same thing about an hour before the sun sets. Long exposures across water and a vast open sky, the surf coming in at the backdrop of a stunning sky, everything is possible if you can leave your bed about an hour before sunrise and head out with your gear.
Speaking of long exposures, you may wish to carry at least the following accessories for your lenses. A circular polarizer and a set of neutral density filters. The circular polarizer will help you to cut through haze and a neural density filter will help you get really long exposures for those dramatic results. Add to those a fully charged extra battery and extra set of freshly formatted memory cards.
5. Plan on capturing something unique along with the obvious touristy snaps
10/10 visitors to the Taj Mahal would capture a shot of the mausoleum as he enters the main doorway leading to the compound. 10/10 visitors would capture a frontal view as soon as he is facing the Taj after entering through the doorway. Go beyond the clichéd images. Take a shot of the Taj when it is illuminated by the soft first light of day. You want to do that follow the tip on point 3 above.
Morning light about 10 – 15 minutes after the sun has broken through and about an hour before sunset works excellently well if you are planning to photograph the Taj. Thanks to the flexible timing, the mausoleum is open from first light to dusk. If you are there you will find several other early bird photographers jostling to get an entry when there is not a single soul inside.
But then why only a frontal view? There are plenty of sights where you can photograph the Taj and get some surreal results.
6. Don’t break out a new camera on a vacation
Most travelers are guilty of this. They buy a new camera just before leaving for a vacation and spend the next few days fiddling with it learning how to use it. This is the worst possible thing to do. If you have done this recently, this is one of the prime reasons why your exposures have been nowhere near as good as you would have expected them to be. With a new equipment you wouldn’t be sure where your exposure compensation button is, which dial to turn in order to changing the focusing point selection or where the quick recall button is. You would be gingerly in your finger movements when browsing the menu option. With an old gear your fingers will know where each buttons are. This is known as muscle memory. You would be quick to grab a photo opportunity where with a new camera you would be too busy fiddling with the buttons and dials.
7. Local guide
Some self-help type travelers would say they are unnecessary, especially in these days of GPS, internet and plethora of travel guides that you could get for a few bucks. True you can get all of that and yet somehow your travel photos still come out mediocre. Any reasons? This is because in spite of everything we have at the disposal of our fingertips, one thing we don’t have is time to prepare. If you are a traveler who packs at the last moment before getting on the plane, a local guide is your lifeline. In some countries you could get a government registered guide for a few dollars for half a day. The guide will take you to all the best photographic spots which even your trusted guide-book misses.
8. The slower you travel the more are your photo opportunities
There is an old adage in the world of traveling, the faster you travel, the more you end up paying. I like to say, the slower you travel the more photo opportunities you tend to get. This comes from the fact that you have a much richer experience. Traveling slow invariably means taking the transport the locals would normally take, riding the odd bus ride from hell, rickshaw, bull carts or even a camel across the desert! But these are what would get you closer to the people and open up a plethora of photographic opportunities.
9. Dressing for the occasion
While western clothes may be okay for all your travels across the northern hemisphere and some parts of the southern hemisphere as well, there are obvious advantages to wearing the local attire when you travel to other parts of the globe. It draws less attention, you can mingle with the local populace and get closer to what you want to photograph.
10. Only pack what you can haul
If you take advice #8 you would often find yourself in some of the weirdest of places. That means no valet and certainly no porter. It will make ample sense to pack only what you can haul. Leave your big luggage bags back at the hotel. Travel with only a day pack. A bottle of water, a snack, a sunhat and your camera gear.
Travel photographers do have a channel to funnel their talent. They can make a living out of selling their travel photos, writing about their travels for different travel websites or blogging on their own websites. It provides them a reasonable method to make some extra cash every month. However, in order to make their photos saleable a bit of post-processing is inevitable. These days’ photo editing tools like Photoshop, Lightroom and Photoshop Elements make it easy for photographers to adjust the white balance, get the sharpness and saturation corrected and reduce noise if necessary. But even then, a large volume of photos require several hours of your time for post processing. Time which could be utilized for taking more images and or sharing your experiences through your blog. Additionally, to make your photos look top-grade professional hands skilled in a proper post-processing workflow is necessary. If you don’t have the necessary skills don’t fret. Help is at hand. With hundreds of professional photo editors you will find everything that you need to give your photos that unbeatable edge at Phowd.
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