7 travel photography tips for beginners

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Travel and photography go hand in hand. From the beautiful beaches on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, to the nomadic people of Mongolia, ...

Travel and photography go hand in hand. From the beautiful beaches on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, to the nomadic people of Mongolia, or perhaps the skyscrapers of New York, travel opens up new experiences, foods and characters. Guess what? All of this relates to new photo opportunities! AM going to mention few travel photography tips for beginners in this post and hope it inspires them!

Travel can be a complex undertaking, especially if you are looking at several weeks or months on the road. Perhaps you have never been overseas? How about the big OZ road trip? I have heard many people say “one day'. The following are some of my thoughts, tips and suggestions to help you optimise your travel and photo interests. Of course, an easy starting point is: “don’t say one day!”

travel photography tips

Travel photography tips: On your own or with a group?

I started travelling with a friend on a road trip to Tasmania in 1979. I loved it so much that I spent the next 10 years exploring Australia including a three year trip driving through its vast wilderness in my Landcruiser. No grey nomads back then, just overseas backpackers, rough roads and lots of guys with beards and few long term plans. Through Central Queensland, the Red Centre, Kangaroo Island to Perth, the Pilbra, Kimberley, to the Top End and back to Brisbane what a hoot!

In 1989 I guided my first group tour overseas. 36 Aussies and Kiwis on a 35 day Argentina and Chile adventure. A lot has changed, and I really understand the negative and positives points to both group or single travel modes. Travelling by yourself has obvious benefits, you answer to yourself only. But of course it can be lonely and in some locations more dangerous. And of course some people should never join a group. They simply have too many personal goals. That’s fine, as we are all different. For those willing to share, I can guarantee that joining a group of friends through to a camera club group, or commercial tour group, will definitely maximise your photo opportunities. More eyes, great conversations solving the issues of the world over dinner and the chance to make new friends.

travel photography tips for beginners

How to Choose a destination?

First off, It's important you undertake homework for the destination you have chosen. Google, documentaries, magazines, and listening to friends who have been already, will all help to give you a picture of the destination and optimise your time. If you are visiting an exotic location, I suggest you hire a local professional photo guide for a day or two. They will show you great locations and the best timing. Then, give yourself a few days extra to revisit the locations for the best results.

Remember that a photographer, no matter how famous, can’t be an expert at everything. Finding a company that works with both local guides and a professional photo guide is critical.

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Travel photography tips for beginners: Itinerary and a guide

So you've chosen your destination. Now imagine turning up to a beautiful landscape scene in the middle of the day, or having a guide who is not keen to get up early and offer you that special sunrise photo. Unfortunately most standard tours will frustrate a photographer and poorly organised itineraries will not maximise your photo interests.

A good itinerary will help you to target, optimise and ideally sort out logistical issues before you leave home. If you're planning your own trip, I would suggest you work on a day by day itinerary. Write up what you think you would like to do and make sure you give yourself enough time. Start with breakfast and finish with dinner or a night time activity. Timing does not need to be regimental, just a base outline.

If you're travelling with a tour company and paying for a guide, you are not paying for them to have a private holiday or to optimise their own photo interests. They should be ‘hands on’ helping you with everything from booking in for flights, to pre checking the logistics of the adventure each day.

I prepare our itineraries around 18 months to two years in advance. Then I fine tune the itinerary around nine months before departure when flights are being booked. Then we offer a final itinerary a month from departure. This is fine tuned again to allow customers to have the confidence that their holiday is exactly that a holiday.

travel photography tips and tricks

Security

Security, for both you and your equipment, has always been an issue. In theory any location can be a risk. Parts of Australia can be just as dangerous as parts of Africa, Europe or the USA. Some Sydney streets are not wise to walk through after midnight. I know myself, that there are several destinations I want to visit, like Socotra Island. It is part of Yemen and unfortunately has a high risk of terrorist attacks. One day!

Unfortunately most insurance policies will not cover camera equipment in your main check-in luggage case. For this reason my camera bag is virtually always with me, except on the occasions I might leave it in the hotel room for a city street walk. On this occasion, I will just take a camera and one lens. After thousands of hotel nights, I have never had a problem. My suggestion is to book good accommodation and keep your equipment out of sight and not obvious. Never leave equipment locked in a car, insurance may not cover it, if stolen!

On my own, I use common sense and do not walk in back streets (where most problems might occur) and limit night walks. Never count money in public. Don’t wear  expensive jewellery, or show off any wealth in a poor area. Don’t leave your camera sitting on the table at a cafe. Put a camera bag shoulder strap through a table leg if eating out.

travel photography tips and techniques

Accreditation and Insurance

The world of travel has changed dramatically in the last few years, with travel agents once the only option. These days, it's a free market, but many people don't realise that anyone can sell travel and they don't need to be a licensed travel agent to do so!

As the deregulation system expands, other issues are now appearing in the travel market. For example, if you book a tour, does the tour operator have tour operator insurance? As per your standard travel insurance ‘fine print’, a standard travel insurance policy will often cover you for ‘standard travel’, but offer limited or no cover for someone not supplying the service and not being accredited.

Their are a number of accreditations that are worth being aware of when you are booking. ATAS is a national accreditation scheme, run by the Australian Federation of Travel Agents, endorsing agents who have met strict financial and customer service criteria. As Australia’s best travel agents, they can provide you with peace of mind when purchasing travel. The Council of Australian Tour Operators (CATO) and International Air Transport Association (IATA) are also seals of approval recognised worldwide.

Today you can book many travel services online yourself. I highly recommend this, but be aware of some of the pitfalls. For example, booking a sequence of international flights and not allowing enough connection time. It might be a ‘legal connection’ (usually around 1.5 hours) but so many flights are delayed. I personally aim for around three hours and I am happy to sit and process a few images while I wait. If you buy a cheap seat, you most likely will have limitations to changing your ticket, plus higher charges will be charged for changes. More expensive tickets have more flexibility and lower ticket changing charges.

Travel insurance is essential for most trips, including large Australian adventures, as those uninsured found out a couple of years ago in Europe with the Icelandic volcanic eruption. Insurance will cover you for many unforeseen circumstances that are completely out of your control. Read the insurance product disclosure statement and policy wording carefully. Remember, this does not cover everything and often offers limited camera equipment cover.

travel photography information

Travel photography tips: Flying and Transport

Travelling with camera gear and associated weight can be an issue. However, there are easy ways around this. Check with each airline, as luggage limits can vary between international and domestic carriers.

I travel as light and simple as possible. My travel kit is one semi soft suitcase with roller wheels 70lt in size. I keep this to around 15/17kg. I then have a LowePro ProTactic 350AW backpack that can carry all of my camera gear. This relatively small bag weighs around 7kg with my kit. Finally, I have a small shoulder bag for my MacBook Pro. I love to download my images and sort through them before I get home. I also use it for workshops on the road. This combination allows me to have a hand free and to be light enough to help customers and importantly, travel easily. A laptop in your camera bag is guaranteed to go overweight and is often ungainly to carry on your back. Most airlines will only allow 7kg of carry on weight, and often two pieces are allowed. The 7kg limit will apply most often for your largest bag. A small secondary laptop bag (or hand bag) is very rarely looked at. A few years ago in Los Angels, I was asked to weigh my camera bag. It was a little over weight. I took out my camera with a lens. I put this around my neck. It was then correct weight and I was allowed through. It is the only time I have been asked in over 50 flights each year for over 20 years! How you approach the desk and the size of your bag makes a huge difference.

Travel photography tips for beginners: Photo Equipment

This is the easiest facet of travel, yet some people get very hung up on this point. I am contacted every day “my gear is too heavy to take. Should I buy a new camera system that is lighter?” and compliments my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. My answer is usually no. Once I look at the equipment list of the photographer, they are simply trying to take too much. As an example, a 200-400mm f4L Canon lens weighs 3.2kg. The new 100-400mm f4.5/5.6L weighs 1.5kg. I have owned both and while I loved the larger lens, I sold it and bought a boat. The smaller and lighter 100 - 400mm is as sharp and 1/6th the price. More importantly, it is very lightweight. Likewise, I do not buy the heavier and more expensive f2.8 lenses. I am happy with lighter f4 versions. With todays high ISO setting ability, I am happy to forgo 1 Stop, again to offer a lighter kit. If you are having weight and travel issues, give this some thought. The push to mirrorless cameras has some positive points, but also negatives. One I find quite funny and see time and again is a photographer moving to mirrorless to go lighter, only to buy two bodies, more lenses and a third point and shoot camera. Suddenly, that light weight kit is no longer!

Camera gear is personal and will vary greatly. The brand of camera has no bearing on one being better than another for travel photography. The good news for you is that any current generation camera will offer you great results and you can travel light. In fact my general snapshot camera is my trusty iPhone. At 12MP, I can print an image easily to 1m on the longest side for a super-sharp high quality result. My son Pearce has even dropped his kit to just one lens to some destinations. His 50MP camera body allows for a lot of cropping, using a general purpose 24-70mm f2.8 lens. He even shoots with film and cameras I used in the 1980s! Your interest and what you plan to target should be an important facet of your equipment selection.

Whether you are travelling locally, interstate or to some exotic destination, travel photography will offer you the most amazing experiences. Enjoy the moment! One comment I hear regularly is that “photographers don’t see as much” rubbish! Next time you start a walk, check out the time it takes. If the sign says two hours, I bet you take four hours. You stop more, see more and from a unique and creative perspective.

Photographers love to explore and challenge their skills. My best suggestion is get out, shoot and set yourself goals. Perhaps it will be a large coffee table book of your holiday. I bet you surprise yourself.

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