Simple ways to improve your travel photographs

[photograph © Steve Davey, The WideAngle]

What’s the secret to great travel photography? Is there one? Or is it luck – does being in the right place at the right time have a lot to do with it? Capturing a memorable image while you’re on the road is likely an uneven mix of skill, place, time, luck, patience and understanding your camera – and to be honest, borrowing a few tricks from the pros always helps. So we asked Steve Davey, author of Footprint Travel Photography (a guide to travelling with your camera) who also runs photographic tours around the world, for tips on how to shoot unforgettable images when you’re travelling.

1/ What basic equipment should an aspiring travel photographer always travel with?

There is no minimum equipment really. The most important thing is your creativity. This might sound a bit dippy, but I have seen people with loads of kit and no creativity come away with dull shots. I have also seen people shooting on a phone camera who have taken a raft of creative and imaginative shots.

If you want to go for a higher technical quality, then you will need a DSLR, and a couple of lenses. Many people will buy a supplementary telephoto lens, but won’t take a decent wide-angle. Taking one of these with you will allow you to get closer to the action. Not by shooting from afar with a telephoto lens, but by moving closer and engaging.

2/ What’s your favourite lens?

I tend to go through phases. Sometimes I only see telephoto shots, and then I will shoot more with the Nikon 70-200mm VRI. This is one of the sharpest lenses I have ever used. Other times I will be in more of a wide mood, and will take a lot of shots with the incomparable Nikon 14-24 f2.8. I tend to take a lot of lenses with me though and will vary from shooting with a fisheye, to shooting with a super-telephoto depending on the subject and the effect I am looking for. I tend to change lenses a lot!

3/ What’s the one thing that most people on your photography courses don’t know about their cameras?

Most people tend to trust their cameras with everything. They will use auto-exposure, auto-ISO and even allow the camera to select which bit of the frame to focus on. Generally though, cameras are pretty dumb and will often get things wrong. So my job on a course or a tour is to try to tell people when their camera will get things wrong and what they can do about it!

4/ Is there a common mistake people make when photographing their travels?

Many people tend to get so blown away by what they are seeing that they snap away with little or no thought or creativity. This results in pretty dull record shots. To get better shots, it is important to think and look for other shots. Ask yourself what the subject means to you, and then try to take a photograph that shows this!

5/ Top three tips for taking better travel images?

Previsualise: Think about what the subject means to you and how you want to photograph before you try to take a picture. This will force you to think creatively and not just jump in and snap away.

Try to tell a picture in a single story: Combine objects or show a significant background to give your shots a greater meaning!

Engage: Whether you are photographing a festival, city or a person, get engaged and involved. It will make your pictures more personal and atmospheric and you will have a much better time. Photography shouldn’t stop you enjoying your travels, it should help you to get more out of being on the road!

Steve Davey is a member of The WideAngle photographers’ network. He is the author of the internationally bestselling Unforgettable Paces To See Before You Die, published by BBC Books and has recently published Footprint Travel Photography. To complement the book, Steve has launched a series of exclusive travel photography tours, to some of the most fascinating and exotic parts of the world, including Nepal, Laos and Vietnam. For more information, please click here.

Keen on photographing animals?  Here, pro wildlife photographer Dale Morris  gives his tips on  taking incredible images.

4 Comments

  • Steve Davey runs some of the most successful and beneficial photographic courses I have ever come across. He has also wracked up what must be some of the best assignment commissions in the history of the business. Sign up for a course and get him to tell you about them over a beer or two 🙂
    – ME

  • I’m a writer trying to get more travel assignments, thus am being asked for the first time to provide my own photos with my writing. I don’t know a thing about photography yet, so it’s a bit daunting! I am wondering, are there any point and shoot digital cameras that are high quality enough to provide images for print magazines? Any advice or resources would be greatly appreciated! Thanks.

    • Hi Leslie
      We’re not familiar with point-and-shoots as we shoot with DSLRs, but… Check the resolution of the camera in a reputable shop, but almost all reasonable point-and-shoots these days are high enough resolution for publication (i.e. they’re higher than the first “pro” digital cameras that came out).
      Hope this helps?
      Narina and Mark

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