8 DSLR Travel Photography Techniques for Beginners
Richard I’Anson’s top travel photography tips
A holiday is a great opportunity to shoot a wide range of new subjects in all sorts of conditions. If you simply want to record memories you could leave your camera on auto, or point and shoot. However, if you’d like to return home with a collection of vibrant and dynamic images that best capture your experiences and the people and places you visit, the following tips will help you improve your travel photography.
1. Choose the Right Camera and Lens
Matching your gear to the kinds of shots you want to take and the kind of travel you prefer makes photography more enjoyable and productive.
You don’t need expensive gear to take great photos but if you’re serious about travel photography and are aiming for success across the widest range of subjects in all situations, you can’t go past a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera with a couple of zoom lenses such as a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm.
2. Carry a Tripod
Tripods can be a hassle to pack and carry, but along with a shutter release cable or remote wireless switch, can be invaluable. During most of the day there’s plenty of light, and hand-holding the camera should be fine. In low-light conditions indoors or on city streets, increasing the sensor’s ISO setting will let you continue hand-holding the camera. But if you want to achieve images with minimum noise in low light, maximise depth of field and use slow shutter speeds for creative effects, a tripod is necessary.
The most common travel subjects that call for a tripod are landscapes and cityscapes. Many of the most successful pictures of these subjects are taken early or late in the day, when light levels are low and maximum depth of field is required to render the whole scene sharp.
3. Learn the Technical Stuff
No matter what camera you use, make sure you play around and get to know the ISO, shutter speed and aperture controls so that the mechanics of taking a photograph become second nature. You’ll then be able to concentrate on, and enjoy, the creative side of travel photography. When you come across interesting subjects and great lighting, you’ll have a much better chance of capturing those fleeting moments and expressions that make unique images.
4. Research and Plan
Research and planning go a long way to getting you to the right place at the right time. You’ll want to ensure you have enough time to cover all the important sights, as well as extra time to explore lesser known subjects and to experience the daily life of the people. Most importantly, check out the dates of special events such as festivals, public holidays and weekly markets. The spectacle, colour and crowds that are the hallmarks of these special days provide so many great photo opportunities that it’s well worth planning your trip around them.
5. Perfect your Photography Technique
There’s no better way to learn shooting DSLR for travel photography than getting out there and doing it. Planning and executing a shoot in your own city is a great way to practise your research skills, test your camera equipment, perfect your technique, develop your eye and get a feel for changing light. As a bonus, you’ll be rewarded with a fresh insight into your home town. You’re sure to see it in a different light, literally, and to discover subjects and places you didn’t know about.
6. Compose for Impact
Make sure your photographs have a clear point of interest. This is usually the thing that caught your eye in the first place and should be the element around which your composition is based. Focus carefully on the subject to ensure it is sharp and aim to place it away from the centre of the frame. Don’t assume that your eye level or the first place from where you see your subject is the best viewpoint. A few steps left or right, going down on one knee or standing on a step can quickly improve a composition.
7. Study the Light
The ability of light to transform a photo from the ordinary to the extraordinary is one of the most powerful tools at the photographer’s disposal.. The keys to the right light are its colour, quality and direction. As you settle on a potential subject, note where the light is falling and if it enhances your subject. There is an optimal time of day to photograph everything, so you may want to wait or return at another time if you can’t find a viewpoint that works. As a rule of thumb, most subjects are enhanced by the warm light created by the low angle of the sun in the one to two hours after sunrise and before sunset, so plan to be at the most important places early or late in the day.
8. Back Up as you Go
Finally, not exactly a travel photo tip but equally as important. Storing the only version of your photos on the memory card in your camera while you’re travelling is asking for trouble. Cameras are prime targets for theft. Ideally, you should always have two copies of your images on separate external storage devices and keep them in separate locations. If you don’t want to carry a laptop and external drives you can upload your images to online backup and storage facilities (whenever internet connection is possible), which provide an easy way to add a high level of security to protecting your precious travel photos.
Richard I’Anson is a freelance photographer who has built a career on his twin passions for travel and photography, amassing a substantial and compelling collection of images of people and places in more than 90 countries on all seven continents over the past 34 years.
Richard has published twelve books including five editions of the best-selling “Lonely Planet Guide to Travel Photography”, “Lonely Planet’s Best Ever Photography Tips” and the large format pictorials: “Australia: 42 Great Landscape Experiences”, “Nepal”, and ”India: essential encounters”.