Ok. So you’ve read up on the technical side of taking great photos. You know your aperture from your exif and you’ve experimented with shutter speeds. But there is something missing from the photos you’ve been taking. They’re ok, but that’s it. Just ok. Why? You wonder. Well, here’s a little secret: it’s all about luck. Well not really. More to the point, great travel photography is about creating your own luck.
Six on a motorbike…. Phnom Penh, Cambodia by shadowplay
There is an art to being lucky in travel photography, and it usually involves a lot of hard work. Research is the key. Find out all you can about where you are going. Read travel guides, books, newspaper and magazine articles, scour the internet, watch television programs. Knowing a little about what life is like in that part of the world can go a long way to getting the most out of your time there. For instance, how would the locals react to someone trying to take their picture? Some cultures can be quite offended by having their photo taken. This is especially true of women in Islamic countries. At other times, people will practically beg you to take their picture. Sometimes, you will be expected to pay for the privilege.
If you are intending to photograph well known landmarks, there will be plenty of images available in the various media, so that you can get an idea of what it might look like during different times of the day or different seasons. This might help you in your planning. There is nothing quite as valuable in photography as knowing how to be in the right place at the right time.
Sometimes the shot you want is just not possible. You may be in a busy city square attempting to photograph a serene monument basking in the afternoon sun, but being interrupted by a stream of passers by wandering through the frame. Unless you are able to stop traffic, you are not going to get the shot you came for. This is where you might need to adjust your approach. Try to capture the feel of the place as it is. If the square is bustling with people going about their day, show it as such. Make your focus the intensity and speed of which life moves within the space. Be creative. Maybe use a bit of motion blur to capture the essence of a city in a hurry. You might also be able to return at a quieter time to capture that monument at peace. Again this comes back to preparation and research. Yes, I’m harping on about that again, but it really is that important.
The Wider Picture
Doubtless you will arrive at your destination with an intended subject. Maybe the local people, or architecture, or you’ve planned your trip around a particular festival that is taking place. However, do not limit yourself to this one subject. Instead of fixing your viewfinder on a subject and keeping it trained, try looking around you. Look up, down, behind you. You will be amazed at how much more there is to photograph. And how much more of a sense of time and place you will be able to show in your images. Isn’t that your purpose anyway?
Great travel photography does require great technical skills. Let’s not kid ourselves about that. But more often than not it’s about being in the right place at the right time and having the awareness to take complete advantage of it.
About the author
Mark Eden is a freelance travel photographer and writer, and the founder and director of Expanse Photography, a photographic services company offering fine art, limited edition prints as well as stock and assignment photography and publishing services. Mark can be contacted through the Expanse Photography website http://www.expansephotography.com