6 Tips For Better Travel Photography

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Travel Photography is something I truly love. From Nepal to Cambodia, Nashville to Canada, my camera has allowed me to travel and make not only an income doing it, but also do quite a bit of humanitarian work too.

But traveling and snapping can be tricky if you don’t know what you are doing. Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks that can make traveling with camera gear a little more enjoyable, and want to pass some of those off to you.

Here’s 5 fast tips that will make traveling with your camera a joy and not a burden.

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1. Pick your gear carefully.

Traveling light is key. I learned this quickly on my first trip to Nepal. I took pretty much everything! It soon became clear I didn’t need half of it – especially my 70-200 f2.8!

Even though I didn’t end up using it at all, I still had to carry it – and everything else – the whole time. It may only be 3.2 extra pounds, but let me tell you it adds up when you’re trekking in 96.8 degree heat day after day.

Now when I go to pack gear for traveling, I ask myself these questions for each piece of gear:

  1. What are the conditions where I am going?
  2. How long do I expect to be away for?
  3. Can I leave behind anything while I am out shooting/is my hotel room or lodging safe and secure?
  4. What do I expect to see and be shooting?

The gear you choose to bring with you (and what you leave behind) will very much depend on how you answer these questions.

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Over the years, I’ve narrowed down my gear quite a bit by asking these questions and generally I take one body, cards, batteries, and two lenses: my 24-70mm and 50mm.

Here’s a packing list of gear I generally take with me when I travel, and should cover everything you will need – from the camera itself to what you carry it in:

  • Camera body
  • Camera bag
  • Memory cards + pouches
  • Camera batteries
  • Battery charger
  • Laptop and charger (will come in really handy for our photo editing sessions)
  • Any hard drives, leads etc. that you need to store your images. Don’t forget about backups!
  • Card readers
  • Favourite Lenses (I always bring my 24-70mm and 50mm)
  • Flash + batteries (optional)
  • Light-weight tripod (optional)

Another important tip: Always have travel insurance and never leave your camera gear unattended while out shooting – it might get pinched even if you are sitting right beside it!

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2. Travel Photography Going To and From

When flying, never ever check your camera gear. Ever. Always take it as part of your carry-on, but be sure you first check and see if your airline has weight restrictions for carry-ons (especially in Australia).

If you are traveling with a friend, you might be able to spread out the weight between you both.

As far as bags for packing your gear for travel, there’s tons of options out there. Make sure you find one that is suitable for you and your gear, but also make sure that the bag itself is comfortable to carry once you have all your gear in it.

This is important if your conditions require you to hike out to where you will be shooting.

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3. Use Light to Your Advantage!

Light is so important when it comes to capturing a good photo, and when you’re traveling light you obviously can’t stow away a softbox in your carry-on baggage.

So picking the time of day you head out can make a world of difference to the photos you capture since you are completely dependent on the available light at your shooting destination.

Early mornings and late afternoons are the best times to shoot if you want soft, magical light. Get up early and capture a sunrise! You will thank yourself later for getting out of bed.

If you’re not a morning person, find out what time sunset is and plan to head out a few hours before. Shoot until the sun goes down and keep shooting into dusk.

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4. Be rewarded: Get Lost!

When traveling, make sure you take time to get lost. Explore, lose yourself in the magic of the culture where you are.

Getting off the “tourist” circuit can bring you plenty of opportunities to meet locals in their element and find some real characters, scenes, and settings that will bring a new element to your photos.

Even ducking down a lane and heading back from main streets a block or two can bring some rewarding opportunities, and some of my best travel photos have been taken in situations like these.

(Though of course, always remember when exploring that safety comes first.)

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5. Be respectful.

People, no matter where they are from or their economic situation, always deserve respect. Don’t just take their photo. Learn some language basics before you go.

“Hello”, “Can I please take your photo?”, “Smile!” and “Thank you”. By learning these basics, you will find the locals will appreciate you giving it a go and they will be more willing for you to take their photo!

If you are struggling to remember how to say something, remember that a smile and holding up your camera pretending to take a shot and asking “Okay?” will probably get you by.

Photographers, especially when traveling to third world countries, love photographing children. This is fine, but make sure you get permission from the parents first.

How would you feel if someone walked into your backyard and started photographing your children? Yeah, probably not too happy.

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Be careful too around soldiers and police. Again, make sure you ask – most times they will be okay with you taking their photo. But if they say no, go with it. Be respectful of them and their space and privacy.

And please note – in some places, you might not get the photo of the person you want; a soldier might be swapped out with a higher ranking officer for example because they would rather you have a picture of an officer than a soldier.

If you’re always thinking about “respect,” you will be okay.

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6. Give, don’t just take.

It’s so easy to just ‘take’ a photo and walk away. But keep in mind that in some countries, a photo you take of someone may literally be the only photo that person has ever had taken of themselves.

If you can, print out a copy of the photo and give it to them. This will mean the world to them. At the very least, allowing them to see the photos digital image on your camera will suffice.

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Have fun and remember, you are seeing the world. Make sure you take the time to see it through your own eyes, not just through the camera!

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About Katie Ebenezer

Katie is one half of the dynamic photography duo Matt and Katie Photographers. Originally from Australia, the two of them have traveled the world and capturing it all through their lens. In 2015 they'll be hosting a one-of-a-kind conference in Melbourne centered around helping photographers live a life with Zero Regrets, with a killer lineup of international and local Aussie speakers including Jeremy Cowart, Two Mann Studios, Oli Sansom, and many more. Click on their website link to find out more.