Tip 1: Get out more before you go.
Magic happens. There are more magic moments happening now and on your trip than you can fit into your lifetime.
The more time you spend travelling, outdoors or in town, where your favourite subjects are, the more likely you are to be at the right place at the right time to experience and photograph them. Too many people are under the impression that a quick trip to a pretty place comes with a guarantee of great images. Not so. As photographers we’re very much at the mercy of numerous random happenings. If the situation looks good, walk around and frame a few compositions. Get down on your knees, stand on a bench or use various postures to get your shot. If your shot isn’t great after all, at least you have recorded the moment and haven’t lost the chance of a memory.
There’s always an element of luck in getting a special image, no matter how well planned. There are no magic moments that arrive on demand or taking reservations. Your best chance of finding something unique is to get out and open your eyes. Get up early and look for the magic light moments throughout the day.
Tip 2: Believe in yourself
Take your subjects seriously, take your camera seriously and believe in yourself and your abilities. If you have doubts, get out more and practice more. Any camera that is in your hand can give you great images. Don’t blame your tools; learn to use them until you are comfortable with your camera and accessories. Everyone takes lousy images – you are not the only one, and remember that everyone that sees your image sees it differently.
Does the place you have chosen evoke good emotions for you? Compose and capture the image as you see it. It may turn out to be a masterpiece.
Tip 3: Research, research, research
While we cannot change factors that are beyond our control, we can increase your chances of finding great images with good research.
Get a good guide book, check the internet, ask your friends that have been to your location, talk to your Travel Agent. Yes, your Travel Agent. They have inside information on many places. What is the seasonal weather likely to be? What plant, wildlife, buildings, seascapes etc. are you likely to find? What days are the markets held and what type of market are they? What times are the magic hours (the hour around sunrise and the hour around sunset)?
Learn travel skills. What should you pack so that you are not overburdened with luggage, camera equipment and bags. What are the best clothes, rain and cold protection the best shoes? Let a Travel Agent book your travel portion and take that portion out of your research. This will give you more time for your photographic research and you will spend less time trying to book the best flight, cheapest hotel etc. Also, using a Travel Agent will help you in case of any travel problem. What do you do if your cheap flight gets cancelled or you get sick, robbed and you don’t speak the language? Call your Travel Agent and they will look after these worrisome problems. Spend your research time on your enjoyment of your destination.
Tip 4: Know your camera gear
Your hard earned money has bought you some equipment that allows you to take that masterpiece. No matter what equipment you have, it won’t improve your composition or the light. Your gear will allow you to make technically good images. That is its role. Purchase the equipment that is comfortable to hold in your hand and will allow you to use the technical aspects that you need to get the shots you require. Perhaps think about the size of print you are making and get gear that allows the size of file you need. Don’t get ego involved with your equipment by buying things you don’t need to just show off what camera or lens you own. The more important lesson here is to know to use your equipment quickly, accurately and almost without thinking. You should be able to make quick changes without looking it up in your camera manual. If you drove here tonight, you probably did not think about how to drive, use your turn signal etc. Your knowledge of your camera should be the same.
Tip 5: Enjoy yourself
If you’ve been to that place that you have researched and didn’t capture your dreamed images, you are still in an enjoyable place. Why did you want to go there in the first place? Was it beauty, soul inspiring, historical? Light, rain, crowds always will be a factor in getting the dream shot, but you are in your selected place so let the frustration go. If you don’t let your frustration go, your work and your trip will suffer. Savour the smells, the views, the food and the other things that made you choose your location. You have not wasted your time. Enjoy yourself first and the image might just come to you at last.
Tip 6: Strangers are people too
What is your style when taking stranger’s photographs? Do you take out your 300 and shoot? Do you ask to take the photograph? Do you pay them for the photograph? Every situation is different. You might ask yourself – why am I taking this photo and how can I get the best result? Sometimes a scene jumps in front of you so pulling out your camera quickly and clicking off a few shots can work. Remember, however, you may be either taking a photo that is not wanted or is invading someone’s privacy. Another trick is to talk to the person first. Sit down and talk to them and after you have shed the “threat” image you may be and show an interest in the person, try asking them for a photograph. Women usually appear to be less of a threat. Instead of being lens fodder, you have the chance to meet someone interesting and perhaps you capture some photos that you would not have shot with your 300. If you cannot sit down and talk to someone, you have a people problem, not a photographic problem. Give them an envelope with a stamp on it and ask them to write their address on the front and mail them a copy when you get home. Be sure to mail it otherwise it gives us all a bad name.
Tip 7: Post production
Composition and technical shooting is done. Now what? If it is important to you to have a photograph that is as best as it can be often good post production techniques are needed. The vision and creativity of the photographer are very important as well. Once you have decided why you took the photograph in the first place you can then decide the amount of post production work is required. Here again, getting to know your tools such as your supplied camera software, Photoshop, Lightroom or other software is very important. Some photographers believe that unless good production techniques are applied, the photograph is not complete. Nobody really cares why an image doesn’t work or almost works. By learning the tricks of these programs your images can become that magic shot that makes you proud.
More quick tips.
*GET UP EARLY, some of your best opportunities for great light is early in the morning.
*TAKE AN ALARM CLOCK.
*DON’T BOOK YOUR MEALS DURING THE MAGIC HOUR. Enjoy a large lunch during the flat light time.
*KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN and camera ready as you head out into the world. Architecture, colors, and mountains all give us a sense of place.
*Wherever you go, be on the LOOKOUT FOR HUMOUR.
*TAKE YOUR POLARIZING FILTER and use outside; take it off when you go inside. Experiment with some filters.
*CARRY A NOTEBOOK that fits easily into your camera bag or pocket; take notes about both what you have photographed location and settings if you want. When you stand in front of that memorable spot and you will never forget the moment – you do forget when you get home.
*GET LOST! Ask for directions – a great way to meet people and discover more places.
*LEAVE IT BEHIND. Unless you have used the equipment or clothes on every trip, you don’t need it.
*PRACTICE AND EXPERIMENTATION are the keys to doing anything well. Do this before you leave.
*DO YOUR DAILY SQUATS. You may have to squat or lie down to get your photograph properly composed in the frame.
*Practice motion photography AT HOME before you leave. Go to an amusement park with rides, a race track, or even a nearby highway. You don't want to waste precious time on your trip learning.
*DON'T BE SHY about photographing people. The ways they are dressed and the ways they behave can help your images convey both the look and feeling of different seasons in different places.
*CHECK THE WEATHER FORECAST in the local media as soon as you arrive somewhere so you can make plans for sunny, cloudy, or rainy days.
*CHECK THE TIDE TABLES.
*If you are WITHOUT A TRIPOD but want to shoot with a long shutter speed, set your camera on your camera bag, bundle up your jacket into a pillow, and use that—there is always something you can use for support.
*Use some feature of the place you are visiting such as a silhouette.
Prepared for Adventure Clothing, Victoria, B.C.
Terry Needham, Ragged Coast Images and Travel