Every place that you visit is going to have its own ambiance, look and character. If you want to have photographs of all of your travels that are lasting and beautiful, they need to capture each of these qualities and offer up as much about the location as to the literal look.
We may not remember the smell or the buzz of a flower garden that was visited in the spring, or the awe of taking a long gaze at a mountain that is intended to be climbed. Or, you may not have the ability to remember the feeling of a tropical breeze, the wonderment at a wild bear, the thrill of a roller coaster, or even the adrenaline of heading out white water rafting. Photographs need to be able to bring these and a variety of sensations back to help trigger memories and communicate exactly how we felt to others who were not there. In order to do this, you should think and feel just as much as you look whenever you set out to take photographs.
To start with, you need to be able think about what make you decide to choose any particular destination out of any other place in the world. Wherever it may be, such as the parks, the beach, galleries, food or the mountains, it appeals to you in some way. If the spot did not appeal to you, you wouldn’t be heaing here. The activity, site, or even the inactivity, happens to be one of the things that you want to be able to photograph. However, there will probably be many other wonderfully interesting aspects of the location that you may not be aware of, which is where your research comes in.
Photographers that work for National Geographic will spend a great deal of time on research, which is what helps us to determine what is there. What is the place about, and what are the subjects that need to be covered. Read up on travel books and brochures, and be sure that you go to bookstores, libraries or look online. Speak to friends who may have been there and pick up as much travel information as you can at the country’s embassy. Finding whatever you can find that is relevant, then devouring it, is the most helpful.
Your understanding of the traditions and customs of the area is vital. It is important that you never act in a manner that is offensive or rude while you are there, as it can be hard to understand what is acceptable and what is not with some knowledge. This will also help you to understand some of the things that people do during an initial encounter that you may find to be simply incomprehensible or horrifying.
After arrival at your destination, try to take note and remain open to first impressions, even writing them down if you need to. A notebook can be a great tool for any travel photographer to have. Once you see a place for the very first time from the window in a plane, or even when you drive around the bend and get a first glimpse, such as when a ship nears your destination island, how does it make you feel? Where are your eyes going first? What is it that you notice about the place initially? Is there a smell, a feeling, a change in temperatures, bright lights, mysterious fog, or a memorable building? No matter what it is that comes into your mind, you need to be able to remember it. The first impression that you have is an invaluable spark for creative interpretation, which by definition will not be repeatable. You may have seen the pictures of the location or you ready about it. However, you are there now and all of your senses are involved.
1. Get Out There
The best way for you to discover the life and rhythm of the place, or to figure out what to shoot, will be to fully experience it. Many locations, particularly those that are hot, will be very active in the morning and then later on in the afternoon, including a lull around the middle of the day. Get up as early as possible and stay out late. When you are on a tour scheduled to leave the ship or hotel at around 9:00, be sure that you get up before dawn. Wander around a bit before meeting up with companions and if the tour goes back to the ship or hotel to grab lunch, stay behind. Instead of taking the bus back at the end, hang around a bit and then take a taxi after sunset. Use whatever spare time that you have and get out to look for photographs. Besides keeping yourself available for more opportunities, you are spending time discovering what place will fully enrich your experience.
2. Get Lost
Take time to sit in cafes to watch the time pass by, or wander down an interesting alley. Try not to eat where tourists do, and take off where you see locals going. Set off down a street that sparks your imagination and see where it leads. Look around the bend, get away from crowds, and meander away from spaces where there are too many tourists. Getting away from what is too familiar and comfortable will help you to easily adapt to the rhythm of a place so that you can be more observant.
Have your camera with you at all times and keep your mind and eyes open. Serendipity actually plays a major role in travel photography results. You will never know what you may run into and you always want to be ready. There are a lot of times that you will see what may make a wonderful photograph, but you will decide that the lighting is not right, there are too little or too few people around. Something will mean you have to come back later. However, you will sometimes get lucky, or you stumble upon a scene that is just perfect at the right moment in time. If you are out of film, you forgot your camera, your storage card is full, or if you need to fumble around to get the best lens on, the moment count be gone before you are able to recover. This will be true whether you are visiting a manmade or natural site, or you are trying your hand at street photography. Any static subjects like trees, monument, or mountains are never going to go anywhere. But, you may find that the soaring eagle, the perfect ray of sun or the couple embracing in front of you will not be likely to hang around for a long time. You need to think of this as a hunting trip. When you leave your camp confines, you should always be able and ready to capture what pops up.
3. Make Time For Your Photography
Just like anything else that you want to do well, creating great photographs will require a commitment level, along with energy and time. A problem with modern travel is that your days are generally chocked full with scheduled events, tours, and meal times. Trips are usually based on limited time, and we always want to see as much as we can during this time. Itineraries will rarely leave a lot of room for serious photography, so you have to be the one to make the time. It can help to make your photographs part of your everyday scheduling. This will help you to avoid the times when you say that you are too busy or that you could always try tomorrow. Stop procrastinating.
While you are traveling, you will more than likely come across all kinds of subjects and situations. This will require you wearing the hat of a jack of all trades, which means that you need to understand how to photograph landscapes, portraits, and everything that comes between.
More than anything, you need to work the situations over. Do not be satisfied with the first view of any place or the first shot that you snap. It is always possible, and more than likely, that you will be able to take a better shot. Why else do painters create initial sketches? Get even closer. Grab different lenses. Try different angles. Wait for the crowd. Check the lighting. Wait for that bird to land on the right branch. You should never be in a rush to get somewhere other than where you are. Tell yourself that there is nothing more important that the best shot that you can get out of whatever situation that you are in. After you have gone through every possibility, you can work on the next adventure.
You will find landscapes in all forms, including forests, mountains, swamps, rivers, lakes, deserts, plains, and seacoasts. Every one will have their own characteristics and their own category.
No matter what kind of landscape you may be shooting, you need to think about the essential qualities that make it so. Think about how it makes you feel and any emotions that are stirred up. Show the waves crashing on the rocks, or show how desolated the beach resort is in the winter months.
Just like landscapes, every town and city will have their very own look and feel. There could be a distinctive setting, a skyline or certain architecture that truly speaks to you. Maybe there is a certain type of food popular to the area or there is a local site that stands out. You will always find at least that one thing that is truly unique.
When you cover any location, you need to capture a good sense of the place, look for famous landmarks in the area and understand the life of the inhabitants. When you want to capture cityscapes, for example, think about looking at the postcard racks in a hotel lobby or at a kiosk. They can give you a wonderful sense of the right views that you should be capturing.
While you are photographing statues, buildings or monuments, it is best to think about whatever they represent prior to shooting. For example, any cannons that are located on a historic battlefield setting may look a lot better with a foggy background than they would in the bright sunshine. Determine the idea of the subject, then take the lighting, angle and weather into account that may communicate it best.
7. Family Members/Friends
Because we often travel with people that we know, we normally want to come home with plenty of pictures of those that were with us to have as a souvenir of the trip. Always get these, but never forget that we can use the people as subjects to make photographs much more effective.
While taking pictures of friends, strike a good balance between them and a view of the place where you are. For example, a close up portrait of your friend while you are visiting China will make for an incredible memory to share with others. You simply want to capture the essence of the moment and make the picture one that will bring about storytelling in the future. Try not to get so close that there is no context. Instead, look for what draws attention and keep your friend or family member recognizable, while still having a sense of where you are.