Tips on how to prepare for and enjoy travel photography

We are about to head off on an overseas trip tomorrow, so I thought I’d share some tips and thoughts about travel photography.

Travel provides the opportunity to experience new cultures, explore new locations and create amazing memories. Photography lets me capture some of those moments and preserve them for posterity.

My family tends to travel fairly lightly and we avoid buying souvenirs, so our travel photos are precious and important to us. Travel is transient but the experience can last a life time. Our travel photos help us recall those special times and inspire us to create more.

Below are some things to consider to prepare for and enjoy travel photography.

The benefit of getting up early! Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

What to bring

This ultimately depends on your destination, the purpose of the trip, what you’re doing and how long you’re going for.

Camera choice

The best camera for travel is the one that you are going to have on you at all times and actually use. You want something that will be portable and versatile.

The obvious 1st choice is your smartphone. You’ll have it with you anyway and phones let you take pretty decent images and video. Smart phone cameras do come with some limitations though, including a lack of serious zoom and poor low light capabilities.

For me, the iPhone is a backup option only and as a hobbyist photographer, I will always bring my DSLR. The image quality is significantly better and creative options, enabled by interchangeable lens, make it a no-brainer to bring my “serious” camera, despite the extra weight and size.

Lens

In line with my general philosophy on life – that less is more – take as little as you can. Just bring the lens (or lenses) that will be on your camera most often.

Weight is a major consideration. You don’t need to bring every lens that you own. Carrying a heavy bag around, which is full of photography equipment, will quickly become tiring and frustrating. Don’t take what you don’t need !

A versatile zoom lens will let you capture a variety of subjects ranging from wide angle shots for interiors, cityscapes and landscapes through to objects that are further away. Alternatively you might consider bringing a few prime lenses, covering a couple of focal lengths.

Contemplating the beauty of Iceland

Other Gear

Other photography-related gear to consider bringing:

  1. Battery charger – Have this on your packing list and double check that it makes it into your bag. They are normally propriety to your camera brand, so aren’t easy to replace on location. If you have spare batteries, make sure to include them too. Keep these in your carry on bag as most airlines don’t let you carry batteries in your checked luggage. If you are anything like me, when traveling in new, exciting and inspiring locations, your camera will be in constant use and batteries will need regular charging.
  2. Extra memory cards Have enough that you won’t run out or be constrained about how many photos you can take. Also don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Especially if you have high capacity memory cards, when it may be possible to have all your photos from the trip on one card. However, if that card gets corrupted or lost, you will lose everything and won’t have any photos from your trip. Generally I try to take a number of smaller capacity cards and swap them out regularly. If you need more, these are generally available in most countries, but you’ll likely pay more.
  3. Portable charger – Whether you are relying on your phone’s camera or need to boost your camera battery, a portable charger can be a life saver. There is nothing worse than being in a once-in-a-lifetime location and not being able to take a photo because your battery is dead. I use the Anker PowerCore 10000, which has a good balance of weight, price and capacity.
  4. Cleaning equipment – When traveling, my camera is in constant use. It gets exposed to all sorts of weather, dust, sea spray and other conditions that can dirty the lens or sensor. Imagine getting home from that dream trip and finding every photo is ruined by a dust spec or dirty lens. To avoid this, I carry two simple but essential bits of gear: an airblaster (Gittos Rocket Air Blaster is great) and some non-abrasive wipes.
  5. Polarizing filter – This is on my lens most of the time as it reduces glare and reflection, and increases contrast. Unless I’m on a specific photography trip, I’d leave other filters at home, as most other effects can be achieved in post processing.
  6. Tripod – They aren’t cheap, but you can get some amazingly light and compact high quality carbon fibre tripods these days. The decision whether to bring one or not, for me, ultimately depends on the destination and how much time I can spend on photography. I’m also more inclined to pack the tripod on a road trip than an overseas holiday. If you plan on shooting long exposures or lots of low light photography then bring it, otherwise save on weight.

What to shoot

Travel photography is all about capturing the adventure of being in a new place. Try to tell a story about your trip with the photos. Try to capture the feeling, culture, people and customs of the place. Look for the little details in addition to the tourist landmarks.

Research the location before you go. This can help with inspiration, knowing what’s available to photograph and when the best time is to capture the shot you want. A little research goes a long way.

I’d also suggest taking good notes about what you have photographed. Keep a journal, or if you are loading photos onto a laptop regularly, make sure to tag them. Otherwise, it can be sometimes hard to recall exact details or distinguish one spot from another.

Be creative, consider interesting angles, get up high or get down low. Changing your perspective is a great way to add interest to your travel photos and distinguish them from everyone else’s snapshots. So climb that castle tower, lie on the floor of the cathedral, include the interesting foreground elements or try a long exposure shot.

A Maiko, Kyoto, Japan

Backup your photos

Every night when traveling I download and back up the photos that I took that day. Although it doesn’t happen often, memory cards do malfunction and I don’t want to lose everything. More often than not you won’t get back to a particular destination again. Travel photos are precious memories, so protect them by having multiple copies. I typically keep a copy on my laptop and a portable back up drive.

Enjoy the experience

Traveling is a privilege and an amazing experience. As a family we often reminisce about previous trips and discuss where we want to go next.

Travel photography is how I try to capture those memories. Not just the sites and scenes but also the feeling and atmosphere. Photography lets me slow down, focus on the details and really appreciate what I’m seeing.

Having said that, it is important to remember to put the camera down sometimes, to enjoy and be present in the moment. You can’t and shouldn’t try to document everything or capture every detail of your trip. Find your balance and make the most of the travel experience.

Thanks for reading

Mr Simple Life

9 thoughts on “Tips on how to prepare for and enjoy travel photography

  1. Thanks for the post! My wife is into photography so I get to benefit from her taking pictures on all our trips. I have found myself frustrated at times at the cost of equipment. It can quickly add up! I think her current setup is nice, a lightweight mirrorless Cannon camera with a versatile lense that can do most everything. I should probably learn more about how to use the equipment but I’ve been kind of lazy about that.

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  2. Great post. We’ll be heading to Ireland later this fall and I’d like to up my game with photography. While we’ve had pretty good success in the past relying on our iphones, as you point out, the options are limited. Watching our digital picture frames scroll through previous trips always brings back such great memories of our experiences. Any camera suggestions for a novice?

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    • Ireland is beautiful so I’m sure you’ll have a fantastic trip! You can’t really go wrong with any camera brand these days and there are plenty of entry level options available. They should all give you a big step up in quality and creative options compared to your phone camera. If you want a smaller/lighter option try Olympus, Panasonic or Fuji. Nikon or Canon are the traditional big guns. I’ve recently switched to Sony as I think they have the best sensor technology. Whatever choice you make, give yourself enough time before the trip to get familiar with the camera controls. Have fun and be careful…..it can be an addictive hobby 🙂

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  3. I really enjoyed your post and your common sense advice. I have a DSLR as well as a point and shoot but have been using the DSLR as a point and shoot without taking the time to learn the art of photography.
    I hope to change that before my next vacation. I also make use of my iPhone and iPad, likely more than I should.
    I used to try to haul everything I owned and am learning to pack more lightly.
    Thanks for sharing !

    Liked by 1 person

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