Monday, February 8, 2016

5 Travel Photography Tips

Sunset At Morro Rock - Morro Bay, California
I was recently asked if I have any travel photography tips. How do you get started in this genre? Where should you travel to? What gear should you use? 

Travel photography is very popular and I think every lensman to some extent aspires to be a travel photographer. I mean, who doesn't want to go to the most beautiful and interesting places around the world and get paid to do it?

Since travel photography is so popular, it can be extraordinarily difficult to break into. You've got to build a portfolio--create a reputation--that will make it possible for you to get paid for your work. In other words, in the beginning you've got to self-fund this endeavor. And you may have to self-fund your travels forever--after all, there is no guarantee that you'll be successful. Competition is fierce.

But don't be discouraged. If this is what you really want to do then keep at it, even when things aren't going as you thought they would. Try, try again. Keep photographing. Don't give up.

Below are five travel photography tips that will hopefully be helpful to you.

Start Local
Sun Rays Over Cummings Mountain - Tehachapi, California
You don't have to travel to be a travel photographer. No matter where you live, there are people who travel near where you call home to vacation. Within a short drive--perhaps even within walking distance--are places worth photographing that people travel to see.

It might be a campground. It might be a museum. It might be a historical site. Perhaps a park. There are places all around that other people are traveling to see. These places might not be well-known, but they are known by some. Or maybe you can demonstrate through your photographs that these places should be known.

Sites near your home offer great photographic opportunities for you. You can visit these places on a limited budget. It's just around the corner from you, so it doesn't require a huge time investment. You can get to know these places intimately, which will give you a leg up on photographers just passing through. And you'll be able to fine-tune your photography skills in preparation for visiting greater locations.

Sun Rays Over Cummings Mountain was captured near my home. Tehachapi is a small mountain town in central California that's not a big tourist destination--most have never heard of this place. Yet people travel to this area for camping, sports, produce, fishing and several other things. Cummings Mountain looms over a small lake and campground, as well as an extreme-sports camp.

Go Regional
Red Chairs - Cambria, California
Once you begin to exhaust locations near your home, branch out to places that could be photographed with a day trip or overnight adventure--state parks, national parks, cities, vistas, scenic drives, basically anyplace vacationers go. To visit these places you will need to do some careful planning. Obviously there is a cost (gas, food, hotel) to travel, but since these trips are short the costs are kept to a minimum.

It's good to return to places you've previously visited and photographed. In order to get great photographs it's helpful to travel to the location at least two or three different times. This will get you there in different light and different conditions, and the better you know the place the more likely it is that you will create something interesting. It's good to get off the beaten path and get away from the real touristy spots on at least one of your visits.

These day and weekend trips will get you used to traveling. You'll understand better the logistics and costs associated with travel. You'll get a good feel of what you can expect to photographically accomplish while traveling.

I captured Red Chairs on a one-night weekend getaway to California's Central Coast. These chairs were found in front of the hotel I stayed at. 

Hijack Your Family Vacation
Green Hill, White Mountain - Fruit Heights, Utah
Every family takes an extended vacation every once in awhile. Maybe it's once every couple of years. Maybe it's a couple of times every year. Whenever you vacation with your family you have an opportunity for travel photography.

Your family won't likely appreciate you dictating their vacation with your photography. But you can plan to visit specific sights at specific times to have the opportunity to photograph it in the light you want. You can also get up early and have an hour or two before breakfast (when everyone else is still sleeping) to photograph around sunrise.

Hijacking your family vacation for photography will allow you to expand your travel portfolio and provide the opportunity to photograph more distant places. You'll get good experience travel planning, figuring out when you should arrive where to best take advantage of the light.

Green Hill, White Mountain was captured on a family trip to Utah. Even though this wasn't a photography trip, I was still able to capture a few good images of a distant place.

Travel Light
Vintage Half Dome From Olmsted Point - Yosemite National Park, California
One piece of advice that I'd give is to travel as light as possible. The less you have the easier it will be to get around. Take with you as absolutely little as you can possibly get away with. Pack small.

It's the same for your photography gear. Pack small. The smaller and lighter your gear the better. Big and heavy gear will get in your way and slow you down. Besides, you want to blend in and not stand out as a tourist photographer, and little gear will help you do that.

I captured Vintage Half Dome From Olmsted Point using a cheap and tiny Canon PowerShot N, an interesting option for travel photography. The camera on your cell phone is also a good tool (for me, that's a Nokia Lumia 1020). A high-end compact, such as a Sony RX100 II, is probably most ideal. A fixed-focal-length camera, such as the Sigma DP2 Merrill, is also a solid option. Really, any camera that's small is what you want to use.

Capture Unique Photographs
Half Dome Reflection - Yosemite National Park, California
When you travel to popular destinations the difficult task is to create a photograph that's different from the millions of other images captured at the same place. It can seem impossible. When someplace has been captured from every angle imaginable in every light and condition imaginable, how can one capture a unique photograph?

Every person is unique. You are unique. Your point-of-view is unique. The more you can insert yourself into your photographs--you nonverbally communicate your thoughts and emotions through your images--the more chance you have of creating something that's never been done before. You need to think as creatively as you possibly can.

Avoid composing the typical tourist photographs. Move forward, back, left or right--wherever everyone else isn't. If there are a bunch of people photographing from one spot, don't capture from there. Find a different place where you are the only person with a camera. Or rethink the whole thing from your unique perspective. Maybe you notice something that everyone else has missed even though it is right in front of them.

Half Dome in Yosemite National Park is as iconic as it gets, and it's photographed thousands of times daily. I found the popular granite rock reflected in the Merced River while wondering along the shore. I composed Half Dome Reflection to take advantage of the painterly look of the scene.

The key to capturing unique photographs of iconic locations is to think about the location in a way that others are not. That often means getting away from the crowds. It usually means getting to the location early or staying late. It sometimes means going when others wouldn't dare be there. It certainly requires photographic vision.

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