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Five Great Tips for the Travel Photographer

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Capturing the essence of a moment is harder than it looks — here are my 5 tips to improve your travel and adventure photography

In This Photography Article You Will Discover:

  • How to Make Your Landscapes Compelling
  • How to Be a Practical Photographer
  • How to Add Dynamic Life to Your Images
  • And More!

There is nothing more deflating than when you realize your amazing image — simply isn’t one. Thankfully, the digital age has eased some of this pain, as one no longer has to wait until one arrives at the photo lab to ensure the True Essence of the Taj Mahal or a scenic landscape from your Queensland Holidays was captured — not just a fuzzy blur. Instant re-takes are a major blessing.

But the digital age has a dark side too — all too often digital photographers are taking less and less time with their photos… snapping away with reckless abandon or worse yet, adopting an “I’ll fix it in Photoshop” mentality. Four out of five of the below techniques are as sound with film as they are with digital, proving that technology only takes you so far, and that beauty — or at least a representation of it — is in the eye (and hands) of the beholder.

Put People In Your Landscapes

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The inclusion of the woman in this photo turns boring rice paddies into a narrative scene.

Landscapes tend to top the list of disappointing photographs. Yes, I know that Balinese volcano or Hawaiian sunset was gorgeous beyond words, but often times the capture of it barely warrants a Facebook upload. How can you instantly improve your landscapes? Put people in them! Adding a person — even if he or she comprises a mere dot in the image — puts the entire scene into perspective. By adding a touch of human life, viewers then get an idea of the scale of the landscape and relate to your experience more freely. All alone? In a pinch, try adding recognizable objects (your car or motorcycle can work) to your scene, again, to give an idea of scale.

“P” is for “Practical”

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The “practical” photographer knows when to let the camera do the work.

Outdoor Photographer magazine called this tip “F8 and Be There!” in a recent issue. Yes, studio and art house photographers often need intricate control of every aspect of aperture and shutter speed, but quite often travel, adventure and outdoor photographers need to be fast and accurate with their shots above all else. So, while we’ll forgo suggesting you select “Auto” on your DSLR, “Program” will allow you control over colour saturation, ISO, white balance, exposure compensation, flash mode and more — but will free you from the burden of aperture or shutter speed adjustments while you shoot exciting, fast moving scenes. After all, when that Orca whale breaches the surface next to your fishboat, do you want to capture it in crystal clarity or be fiddling with your aperture and miss the shot? You’ve got half-a-second to decide…

Dial Down Your Exposure Compensation

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The addition of a -0.3 exposure compensation can make your colours pop and your blacks rich.

This is a new one for me. I read it in a photography magazine and have yet to fully explore it — but in theory, I love it! Setting your exposure compensation down one step — -0.5 or -0.3 — will not only add greater depth and life to your colours, but it will also increase the richness of your blacks — thereby adding some real “pop” to your images. Give it a try!

Don’t Freeze The Motion

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Deliberate, localized motion blurs add life to an image.

I blame the “Sport” mode on most cameras for this faux pas. Such modes often set the shutter speed at 1/500 of a second or higher — creating virtual freeze-frames when you pop the shot. While this is often great for wildlife images, it can kill the life from many other types of shots — such as candid portraits and panoramic urban scenes. A bit of localized, deliberate motion blur often adds life and dynamics to an image that freezing it at a dead-stop will take away. For example, if you were snapping a shot of an auto race, you’d want the wheels of the race car to blur — thereby illustrating just how fast that vehicle was travelling. Freezing the image completely with a 1/1000 shutter-speed will make it look like the car was parked on the raceway — boring.

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A sturdy tripod is necessary for low-light photography.

Tripods Are Still King

Image stabilization is a godsend. I find I can hand-hold most images shot at less than 55 mm focal length at shutter speeds as slow as 1/15 of a second thanks to built in vibration reduction. But if you can’t get your shutter speed to 1/15 or faster, you can be pretty much assured your hand-steadied photo will be blurred. And the insidious thing about these blurs is that they are often subtle — too subtle to see in your DSLR’s view screen, but enough to ruin a photo when viewed on your laptop. So, for exposures slower than 1/15 — you’ll need a tripod. All serious landscape photographers use a tripod. All night-time and low-light specialists use a tripod. Plus, if you want cool localized motion blurs, star trails and creamy waterfall shots — you’ll need a tripod. So get a darn tripod!

What is Your Favourite Photography Tip?

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About the author: David Webb is a Vancouver, BC-based travel writer, photographer and magazine editor.

4 comments… add one
  • All excellent tips mate! Some great photos in there too. Love the last one 😀

  • Zablon Mukuba Jan 7, 2011 Link

    thanks for the tips, am really into photography.

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