There’s a fine line between being a tourist and being a travel photographer. Being a tourist is easy. You can travel through a city or country and take photos of what you see, or of what you’re doing, so that you can remember your trip. The main difference is that travel photography takes planning into consideration. Which gear will you bring? How will the weather affect what I plan to shoot? Are photos allowed where I’m going? In my years of taking photos in many countries and cultures, I’ve developed the tips that follow.
Make the best of every situation
Situations when you travel can be everything from bad weather or less-than-optimal lighting to a location being closed for a holiday. Let’s start with weather and lighting. When I travel, I pretty much know that I don’t want to take photos after 10 am and before 6 pm, or depending on the time of year, this might vary. There’s a window in the middle of each day when the sun is highest in the sky (you can look up solar noon times on any weather website and avoid several hours before and after this time). In the few hours after sunrise and before sunset, you’ll get the most dramatic shadows and colors, so if you have flexibility in your schedule, plan to hit the most important spots at these times of day. If you do happen to be somewhere important or particularly beautiful during hours of harsh sunlight, use shadows to your advantage. You can try taking portraits in partial shadows or try playing with areas that contain both light and shadow. In terms of weather, the best advice is to always be prepared. There’s nothing like leaving your hotel for the day and dreading rainfall because your gear is not protected. Check the forecast before you leave and plan ahead by also pinning some places to hang out and take shelter in case of heavy rain that could spoil your gear.
Utilize gear you have, or use alternative ways to try new gear
Whether you have a smartphone camera or a top-of-the-line DSLR, there are ways to spice up your current gear to make it feel new. You can try add-on lens attachments, like Moment lenses or similar. There are also a ton of different software offerings, like panorama, slow-mo or portrait mode that can be used creatively to your advantage. I’ll sometimes carry around a 50mm lens or longer, and rely on my phone’s camera for wide angle stuff. If you travel with an extensive set of camera gear, it’s sometimes a good idea to bring less than you think you need if you’re traveling far. Try to maximize the versatility of each type of lens or camera body in order to not be traveling with excessive pounds of luggage that will create challenges when moving around. I try and not check through any camera or laptop. I like to carry-on my most valuable stuff. If you have anything with you and that is unable to come on an airplane, or with you on a bus, consider downsizing!
Consider how some parts of the world perceive photography
For example in Asia, it is respectful to be mindful of locations, and to ask for permission before photographing private places like homes or people’s belongings. An example is that in Peru, there are ladies dressed in traditional outfits who have llamas and alpacas; it’s their livelihood to charge money from tourists for photos, so it’s not right to take photos of them from afar without paying. If this is okay with you, then you can wait to have a photo if or of them, and pay a tip. There is a fine line between capturing a moment for journalistic purposes vs. taking a photo. I always try and ask people if I can take a photo of them, or a place, first! If you don’t speak the language, simply pointing to your camera and having a smile usually works!
Get creative by offering photos to businesses
It is usually welcomed by hotels and restaurants (ask permission first) to take photos of the property or of food, and send later to a marketing professional on their staff. If they have a use for the photos, they may use them in social media with credit to you. If not, you can use an experience like this for your own practice! I’ll always upload my favorite photos of a location to Google Maps and I’ve seen a huge amount of views to those photos since I’ve started uploading.
Play tourist in your own city
If you don’t have the means to go far, consider playing tourist in your own hometown! Is there a viewpoint or a peaceful nature reserve nearby? Take a short trip and work on photography at various times of day or in different seasons. As mentioned above, you can also take photos at nearby hotels, B&Bs or restaurants in your town or city, for variety. If you do have the means to travel away from home, I recommend looking for good travel deals from your home state or country. A weekend trip sometimes can work wonders! For example, coming from the US, a 3-day trip to Mexico is better than no trip to Mexico at all, especially in winter. Traveling in the off-season can yield good deals to destinations both domestically and internationally not too far away.