Travel Photography Tip #5 – What’s in my bag?

A few days ago, I went to a presentation on travel photography gear, where 6 advanced amateur photographers talked about what photographic kit they did (and didn’t) take with them on their travels. Their kits varied from “moderately spartan” to “everything and the kitchen sink”, but it got me thinking it may be a useful topic to discuss. (Point-n-shoot users, read this and appreciate the lightness of your gear!)

 Travel Photography Tip #5 – What’s in my bag?

First of all, it’s important to remember this is very much horses for courses – your gear will need to suit both you and your style, as well as the purpose and subject matter of your trip. That said, here’s what I normally take in my camera bag on a ‘generic’ trip:

  1. My camera: Currently the Canon 7D
    Picture of a flamenco dancer, Granada, Spain
  2. My all-purpose lens: for me, this is the 24-105 f/4, which lives on the camera probably 60-70% of the time, and gives me a reasonable range of focal lengths to chose from.
  3. My church-museum-and-low-light lens: a fast prime, currently a 50mm f/1.8 and/or a 35mm f2.0. Very small, very light – combined they take up less space in my bag than any other lens (and they are comparatively cheap as well!), are relatively inconspicuous, and they let me take pictures in light that other lenses struggle with. (The flamenco picture to the right was taken with a fast prime, due to the low light.)
  4. My fit-everything-in lens: An optional extra, depending on where I am going, but still included more often than not. For me, this is a Sigma 10-20mm. Very useful when you want to show the full breadth of a scene, whether a landscape, architecture, or bustling street scene, but can pose a few compositional challenges until you get used to it.
  5. My backup camera: a small point-and-shoot, for when I can’t or won’t take the ‘big’ camera, as well as providing some redundancy in case of camera failure.

I also have a cheap, small laptop (the smallest and cheapest I could find) two small hard drives, and an assorted mess of chargers, spare batteries, spare cards, and a card reader. This all fits into a small(ish) camera backpack (overhead-locker safe, even for small planes), along with wallet, phone, books, drinks, etc. It does not, unfortunately, leave much room for shopping – whether that’s a good or bad thing probably depends on your point of view :)

What about you – what’s in your bag when you travel?

(Read more Travel Photography Tips on Journey Photographic here)

Travel Photography Tip #4: Negotiate Up Front

Before we get started with this week’s travel photography tip, some of you have probably noticed I am massively behind in answering comments right now.  Mea Culpa – things have been somewhat frantic recently, and are likely to be so for the next couple of weeks.  Rest assured I read and appreciate every single comment (yes, even the spam!), even if I can’t always respond right away.

Travel Photography Tip #4: Negotiate Up Front

For most people, travel photography is just aspect of their holiday activities. This is especially the case if you are travelling with a non-photographically-minded travel partner (be that your significant other, family member, or friend). When trying to balance travel photography against other activities in your limited holiday time, you may want to consider negotiating travel photography time with your partner/s before you go.

Black and white picture of Birds in Motion, St Peter's SquareDiscussing things up front means you can agree some time for travel photography take a priority, and some time when you’ll let it take a back seat in favour of their priorities.  One point that is frequently raised post-holiday by keen photographers is that they’d ‘hoped for more time’ for photography.  But there’s no point hoping you’ll be able to squeeze some time in, and feeling disappointed if it doesn’t work out, if you didn’t tell your travel buddies you wanted to do it in the first place. Of course, this works both ways – they probably have something they want to dedicate some holiday time for as well.

When I went on holidays with my sister (who is well aware of my tendency to be easily distracted – for long periods of time – by photographically interesting objects), we spent some time before we left discussing what we really wanted for the trip. While we generally have fairly similar travel preferences, there is one difference; I enjoy photography, and she doesn’t (and she loves museums, while I can take ‘em or leave ‘em).  Based on what each of us really wanted to do and see, we easily came to a agreement on when I would try and keep the impact of my photography on the schedule to a minimum, and when she’d accommodate (reasonable) requests for extra photography time.

The most important thing about these discussions was not the resolution we ended up with, but the fact that both of us were on the same page, and that we were both aware of each others priorities.  We didn’t need a detailed agreement – just a sense that both of us were willing to compromise to make sure we both got what we wanted out of the trip. And it worked – she got her museums; I got photography time when I really wanted it, and we both had a brilliant time!

(Read more of the Travel Photography Tips here)

Travel Photography Tip #3: Include the Human Element

Travel Photography Tip #3:  Include the Human Element

For most people, one of the first signs getting ‘serious’ about travel photography is a desire to take people-free pictures of an Iconic Location.  This is often a good thing – unless you are trying to make a point about the number of brightly-clad travellers wandering around, they generally aren’t adding anything to the message you do want to convey.

However, unless your travel consists solely of unaccompanied trips to uninhabited wildernesses, sooner or later you are going to have to include your fellow travellers (or locals) in your pictures – and this isn’t a bad thing!  While it can be extremely annoying to have random person wandering into your carefully-framed shot, there are times when it’s worth considering including people in your pictures.

This is the case if you are trying to show scale in a picture – nothing conveys a sense of scale like a person.  We all know the (rough) size of a person, and can instinctively get a feeling for the size of a scene when there is a person in the picture.  But more than that, including a person gives the viewer something to latch on to, a point of view for them to adopt.  It directly engages the imagination, and invites the viewer to imagine themselves in the scene – there’s a reason travel ads always include people, after all.

Picture of person standing on the edge of the Giant's Causeway, Northern IrelandOf course, there is a knack to picking the right person to feature in your photograph.  You may not always have a choice, but here are a few things to keep in mind when including people in your pictures:

Local or Traveller? A local can add a sense of authenticity, while a traveller gives an even stronger sense of identification for the viewer.

Colourful or Drab? What the person is wearing can really make or break the scene – bright colours draw the eye (red is great for this),but they can also clash with the rest of the scene.  Look for something distinctive, but harmonious.

Generic Person or Specific Individual? When including people in pictures, consider whether or not you are looking to include them specifically, or if you just want a Generic Person.  Specific people may be appealing for reasons unique to the individual- their appearance, or their connection to the location, for instance.  If you do want to include this specific individual, make sure your picture shows what made them important to you.  Generic People are often there to fill one of the roles above, and may serve their roles best when their identify is unknown – shot from behind with faces obscured, or even silhouetted.

So the next time you are trying to photograph an Iconic Location overrun with people, don’t despair – selective inclusion of people can lead to more engaging and involving travel pictures for your audience.

(Just getting started? You can read the rest of the Travel Photography Tips series here)

Travel Photography Tip # 2: Bad Weather Makes Good Pictures

Travel Photography Tip #2:  Bad Weather makes Good Pictures (or at least interesting ones)

Everyone wants perfect blue skies for their holiday – it’s much less fun sunbathing during a typhoon, and even indoor pursuits like shopping can be seriously marred if you run the risk of getting drowned by a sudden deluge between the exit of the shopping centre and the car.

But if your holiday does get marred by less than perfect weather, don’t despair – this is often the best time for travel photography!  Stormy skies, snowstorms or fog – all are unique opportunities to show your location in a different light.

Picture of benches in Major's Hill Park in Ottawa during a snowstorm, Ottawa

Here are 5 ways bad weather can present great opportunities for travel photography:

1. Interesting light: Photography is, fundamentally, all about light, and bad weather can do all sorts of interesting things to light.  The light immediately before and after a storm can add drama to any subject.  Rain can turn city streets into reflecting pools, and  snow can turn a landscape into a giant reflector, casting light into all sorts of places that may normally be in shadow.

2. Great Skies: Stormy skies are an atmospheric addition to any landscape, and this alone can really add that ‘Wow’ factor.   While blue skies are wonderful to experience, photo after photo of them can get a little old sometimes.

3. Fewer Tourists: Bad weather can keep less hardy travellers indoors, so you are more likely to get that picture of that Iconic Location blessedly free of other people.  And this doesn’t just apply to Iconic Locations – the lack of people can make for striking pictures of normally bustling places.

4. Authenticity: Weather that keeps the tourists at home often fails to daunt the locals, and capturing the way they deal with extremes that daunt out-of-towners can make for fascinating pictures.

5. A different take: Everyone is used to the picture-perfect postcards of a location.  Bad weather may not be ideal, but it forces you to take a different look at your location, which is not always a bad thing.

I had to limit it to 5 things, or this post was going to go on forever, but this is just the start: bad weather can offer innumerable opportunities for photography, regardless of where you are.   The key is to work with it, not against it.  Make the most of the opportunities it offers, and incorporate the snow, rain or storm clouds as a key part of your picture, and you’ll find that bad weather days can be some of the most rewarding for travel photography.

So, the next time the weather outside your window looks bleak, don’t hibernate in your hotel room – get out there and take some pictures!

(If you missed it, you can read the first of the Travel Photography Tips here)

Travel Photography Tip #1: Take pictures of the stories you want to tell

OK, here goes – the first of the Travel Photography Tips! Some of these may seem overly simple or obvious, but I’ve included them because, from past experience, they are things that everyone (including me) needs to be reminded of now and then.

This first tip definitely falls into this category – it’s simple but fundamental, and worth remembering!

Travel Photography Tip #1: Take pictures of the stories you want to tell

I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has been showing me pictures from a recent holiday, and, after passing me a nice picture of a Iconic Location / Famous Statue / Magnificent Vista, immediately launches into a story about the great little bar just around the corner from the Iconic Location, or the way the stray cats at the Famous Statue would wind around their ankles, or how they got completely lost looking for the train station on the way to said Magnificent Vista and ended up squashed between two grandmothers carrying geese on the local bus.  Unfortunately, their travel photos don’t show any of this.

Picture of giant lemons in Sorrento, Italy

As soon as I saw them, I knew I needed to tell everyone about the Giant Lemons.

It’s easy to get seduced into in the mindset that great travel photography is about taking great pictures of Iconic Locations (etc), but for most people, the most important purpose of travel photography is to capture your memories of a place, and to show to friends and family back home (accompanied by many long and winding tales of your adventures, of course!).

From that perspective, the key to great travel photography is taking pictures of the things you want to remember and share – and that’s not just the postcard locations, but the wonderful place where you had dinner, and the giant lemons in the street stalls, or the time when the roof of your hotel room collapsed onto your bed.

Take pictures of these as well, and your overall experience of travel photography will be much richer. Not only will you have pictures that capture the iconic side of your destination, but you will have pictures that show your experience of your destination, which is much more compelling viewing, both for your friends and family and your future self.

So as you go about your holiday, when you find yourself looking forward to telling someone at home what you just experienced, consider taking a picture that captures what you want to share. When it comes time to share your adventures, your loved ones at home will thank you for it, as will the future you.

Palais Garnier (+ Travel Photography Tips)

Picture of the Grand Staircase of the Palais Garnier (Paris Opera), Paris

Grand Staircase, Palais Garnier (September 2009)

Trying to visit the famous Palais Garnier was an exercise in frustration – every time we visited, it was closed, either for rehearsals, performances, or some other unknown reason. But eventually, our persistence paid off, and we made it inside.

Travel Photography Tips

On a completely different note, as of this weekend, there’s going to be a new section on Journey Photographic – Travel Photography Tips.

Why? Because a camera can be a notoriously fickle beast, and sometimes getting your holiday pictures to live up to the reality can be a struggle. I’ve heard a lot of people lament that their holiday shots don’t really capture their memories of their experience – hopefully this is going to help with that!

These tips are for anyone who wants to improve their travel photography, regardless of what type of camera you have – point-n-shot or SLR, it’s all good. It’s not going to be particularly technical, this is purely a way for me to pass on some tips and tricks I’ve learnt over a few years of trial and error when it comes to taking travel pictures, with limited time, options and equipment.

So, starting this Sunday, I’ll post a a weekly Travel Photography Tip, until I either run out of things to say, or you all beg me to stop :)