1. Don’t rely on your cell phone camera
As cell phone cameras improve, we notice how more and more people forego the heavy DSLR in favor of their iPhone. However, if one of your main priorities is to take great photos of your trip, don’t just rely on your phone. With the rapid advances in camera technology in the past few years, you no longer need to carry around a monster DSLR either. Today’s mirrorless cameras (Sony A7 Series, Olympus OM-D, and Fuji XT-1/10) are a compact powerhouse that is light enough to carry anywhere you go.
2. Get lenses that cover a wide focal range
Every camera system has an ability to go from an extremely wide angle (16mm) to extremely focused (300mm). If you are just going on a casual trip, carrying 3 or 4 lenses can give you pain in the neck and back. Get one or two lenses that will cover a wide focal range. Many manufacturers make single lenses that will cover that range, Sony has the FE Zeiss 24-240mm as an example, and will help reduce your luggage’s weight.
3. Get a good lightweight tripod
Most people never consider buying a tripod, viewing it as an unnecessary, throw away piece of equipment. You will often see tripod and tripod head combinations costing more than the cameras they are supporting. The best lightweight tripods are made with carbon fiber from Companies like Gitzo, Really Right Stuff, Manfrotto, Benro, MeFoto.
A few things to consider when looking for a good tripod:
[checklist icon=”fa-check” iconcolor=”” circle=”” circlecolor=”” size=”13px” class=”” id=””]
[li_item icon=””]Look for a combination that will include a good ball head that can support the weight of your chosen equipment.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Try to stick to reputable brands, you get what you pay for. The brands listed above are all known for the quality of their products.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Make sure you buy one that will be small, compact and tall enough when fully opened. Pay attention to the maximum height.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Get one with a center column, preferably one with a hook to weight the tripod down in the wind.[/li_item]
4. Invest in neutral density (ND) filters
You can now get great sets of inexpensive ND filters. Tiffen has a great set for example, that will allow you to extend those shutter speeds and get a great exposure. If you want clouds streaking across the sky or silky smooth waterfalls then use slow shutter speed (5 seconds or longer), a lightweight travel tripod and ND filters to intensify colors and light. A simple trick that can make a great difference.
5. Shoot Raw and edit your photos using a RAW processor
If you are using a mirrorless camera or a DSLR that was made in the last 7 years then you should have the ability to shoot in RAW. Each company has their own format of RAW files, for example:
- Nikon: .NEF
- Canon: .CR2
- Sony Mirrorless: .ARW
These files are larger and more information dense than their JPEG counterparts, yet give you the ability to unleash their full potential with proper editing software. Some of the major benefits of shooting in RAW is that it will give you a larger amount of latitude when it comes to adjusting your white balance, correcting your exposure, and recovering details in the highlights and shadows. With JPEG, the camera bakes all of that information in and makes many of the adjustments by itself. Sometimes this looks great but oftentimes you can achieve far better results yourself.
Use Adobe Lightroom (CC is the recommended version at the time of writing this piece) and PhaseOne’s Capture One Pro (Version 9). This will give you the ability to really adjust the images to look like they did when you were standing there taking the photo, or even better in some instances. Every photo you see from travel photographers has been corrected and edited. Don’t assume these images came out so amazing without editing. It doesn’t matter what camera you are using, you pictures will never look perfect without editing. There are plenty of resources on the Internet with great tutorials for using each of these softwares, helping you take your images to that next level.
6. Switch from Auto to Aperture Priority Mode (A or Av)
Imagine you are an artist and your camera is your paint brush. Painters don’t let the brush make decisions for them, and neither should you, even if you are an amateur photographer. Adjust your aperture and make a compositional decision how much of the frame to be in focus. If you need everything in focus then select a narrower aperture (larger number, ex f/16). If are you trying to separate your subject from the background then select a wider aperture (smaller number, ex. f/2.8).
7. Shoot at the right time of day/night
Using all of the above tips will be pointless if you are shooting at the wrong time of day. You might end up with is an awesome subject in bad light and therefore the end result will disappoint you. There are apps that can help you identify the best time of day in your location such as The Photographers Ephemeris or Sunseeker. This period is often referred to as ‘the golden hour.’ It doesn’t always last a whole hour. Sometimes it be as short as 15 minutes if you are near the equator. This means getting up and out to where you want to go long before the sun rises.
Bonus tip: Don’t avoid guided tours thinking ‘Well, James said if I go during the middle of the day my photos will be terrible.’ Those tours can be some of the best location scouting you can find. The trick is to come back when the sun is just starting to peek and when there are no tour guides rushing you. Take your time to that beautiful shot you imagined.
8. Explore different angles
Experienced photographers understand the necessity of exploring various angles. Whenever something stops you as you roam, explore it and try shooting it from close to the ground or find a high vantage point that will allow you to get a different perspective. This is one of the easiest ways to add something unique to your travel photos. Don’t shoot everything at eye height.
9. Take care of yourself
This might sound too obvious but I my personal experience shows that we often forget the obvious. You can get so wrapped up in taking amazing photos that you neglect basic survival things like water. Wear a good hat, bring lots of water and have proper footwear. Sorry, flip flops are not appropriate for hiking up a mountain path at night to catch the epic sunrise the local you met at the cafe told you about.
You will get out of your photography what you are willing to put into it. But don’t forget to enjoy your journey and spend time with your friends or loved ones. Follow us for more advice pieces on how to become a better photographer.