Travel Photography Tips

The tips presented below are specifically for travel photography. General photography tips are available at the Kodak and Photo Secrets websites, and a discussion forum is online at Popular Photography Magazine. Additional travel photography tips are available at the Fodors and National Geographic websites.

Steve Mueller's Travel Photography Tips

  • Head for the postcard racks— When visiting a new area, postcards provide excellent examples of the subjects and perspectives that professional photographers have deemed worthy of attention. Notice the objects (fountains, statues, street lamps, etc.) that are incorporated into the foreground when the subject of the photograph is a recognizable landmark. An attempt to reproduce the most appealing scenes should result in a few professional-looking images.
  • Watch other photographers— Someone with three cameras around their neck is likely to be an experience travel photographer. Attention to the activities of such people may may be rewarded with useful information. Note the subjects they prefer and the perspectives they seek. Are they using a tripod? If so, the light may be insufficient for a hand-held camera. Moreover, experienced photographers "do their homework" and are attentive to evolving situations. For these reasons, their behavior may offer clues beyond composition and technique. If they seem to be waiting for something, a great photo opportunity may be about to occur: the Royal Horse Guards may soon ride past, or there may be a shy bear in that grassy meadow who pokes his head up now and then.
  • Look behind you— The best shot is not necessarily in front of you. Always Look around. It is so easy to be absorbed by the castle that crowns the hill you are climbing that you fail to notice the spectacular views of the town below. Perspective can dramatically alter the visual appeal of a scene. A subject that did not appear particularly photogenic as you walked or drove past may be striking when viewed up the narrow street that you just descended. A that is unimpressive up close may be much more striking from a distance, or vice versa. Activity is another reason to be aware of your surroundings. A picture of a cathedral might appear more interesting with a group of priests passing in front. Sunsets and sunrises are periods when the best views are often behind. While most cameras are pointed toward the horizon, the warm light produced by a low sun can paint spectacular scenes, full of vivid, glowing reds and yellows, in the opposite direction.
  • Be patient— This is particulary true when shooting wildlife or scenes with people. If you are patient, that grazing moose will eventually lift its head to look around, and you will get a shot of a proud majestic animal, as opposed to one with its nose buried in the ground. If you want a picture of Delicate Arch, the symbol of Arches National Park, without people, you will probably have to wait. Although it is more than a mile from the nearest parking area, visitors are constantly coming and going from this Utah landmark. Wait long enough, however, and you will eventually find a moment when there is no "bubba clutter" in your shot.
  • Redundancy for important shots— This is particularly true if the scene includes people. After you return home and have your film developed, you may discover, to your great dismay, that the image of Old Faithful you were certain would be outstanding was ruined by a kid with his finger up his nose featured prominently in the foreground. It is a law of photography that the odds that someone will randomly do something stupid or disgusting increases exponentially at the moment you press the shutter button. Challenging lighting conditions are another reason for multiple shots. If part of the scene is in the shade and part in sunlight, take several shots at different exposures. Film is cheap compared to other expenses involved with getting somewhere worth photographing.
  • Film selection can be critical— Don't simply choose whatever film is most readily available or the least expensive. A high-quality trip deserves high-quality photographs. Don't limit yourself to a single type of film. At minimum, film speed should vary with lighting conditions. Inappropriate film speeds resulting in images that are too dark or too bright are one of the most common culprits behind disappointing photos. Slower, fine-grained films should be used in bright outdoor conditions, and faster films should be used when the subject is poorly lit. When sufficient lighting exists, I prefer films with high color saturation, such as Fujichrome Velvia (especially now that it is available at 100 ASA) and Ektachrome E100VS. A useful review of slide and print film is available at Popular Photography Magazine.
  • Minimize assumptions and experiment— Don't assume that pictures taken in inclement weather are a waste of film (or memory). Rain creates colorful nighttime reflections of city lights, especially on wet cobblestone streets. Fog and mist may enhance the mystery of an ancient cathedral or mountain forest. Photography is not exclusively a daytime endeavor. When in Europe, I routinely wander around cities and small towns at night with my camera and tripod.
  • Purchasing film in Europe— In Europe, film is most expensive at souvenir shops, which also tend to have a extremely limited selection. Department stores are the least expensive option for purchasing film, but they often do not have the better quality professional films. Most large European department stores do carry the general use varieties of Fujichrome (e.g., Sensia) and Kodak (e.g., standard Ektachrome). European stores that have relatively inexpensive film include the FNAC chain in France, Photo Porst in Germany, and Capi-Lux in Holland. The largest variety of film is usually found at small camera shops, which are not as expensive as the souvenir shops, but generally more expensive than the department stores. A few box-end flaps of your favorite films may bridge the language barrier when seeking a specific film type from a salesperson that does not speak English. In Europe, slide film is often referred to as diapositive film.
  • Take notes— When you assemble your photographs, whether in a traditional album or on a website, you will want to label the scene. A detailed caption may enhance the impact of the image. For example, rather than simply labeling a photograph "London buildings," a more informative caption would be "Whitehall from Westminster Bridge." Without field notes, it will not be possible to convey this level of detail. In some cases, it will even be difficult to determine where, within a roll of film, one town ends and another begins.