Travel photography is my life. I have roamed the planet in search of great landscapes and people, always looking for the best ways to capture them in images.
After a lifetime of snapping around the globe and living off my travel photography, these are my 5 best tips for (aspiring) travel photographers!
The general rule is this: the more light you allow into your photos, the more atmospheric they will become. Make light your main subject and then look for an interesting scene, not the other way around.
Strongly backlit settings are what to look for. When the sun is low, don’t turn your back on it. In fact, never turn your back on the sun. It really pays off to have the sun in sight because it will backlight or sidelight the situation you are photographing.
There are a few things to keep in mind. The rays and spots of light that show up on your photos when photographing against the light are caused by tiny specks of dirt or dust on (and in) your lens. The only way to avoid them is to clean it obsessively.
And, when allowing the sun directly into your photo, you need to overexpose by one or two stops to adjust your camera settings.
Prepare for the unexpected
The first time I met Um Rabbia was when I was hiking through the Sinai with a Bedouin guide. One night, when we were talking about the position of women in the Bedouin society and the limited freedom they enjoy, the guide told us about a remarkable woman who lived in the desert without a husband, an uncle or even a brother to look after her and how unusual this was. Our group decided to make a detour to visit her.
A year later I returned to the Sinai to spend a week with Um Rabbia and her family to write a story about her life in the desert for a woman’s magazine. When I gave Um Rabbia the photo I took of her the first time, she surprised me by hugging me and kissing me on the cheek.
Later that week, I asked her to pose for a portrait. When she came out of her tent she was carrying the photo I had given her. I was setting up my camera when all of sudden Um Rabbia’s young camel appeared. His name was Khashm, which means nose. The camel was given this name because he was very nosy. I quickly took a photo which later turned out to be the best shot.
Tell a story with your photos
To me, this photo of Santa Claus arriving at an all-inclusive resort by boat sums up the international image of the Dominican Republic. A semi-tropical island where you go to to get away from the routine and the cold of your home country. Whatever else happens there, nobody really knows and it doesn’t seem to matter.
Photographing Santa Claus this way will first make you smile, because he looks funny and is very much out of place. He must be hot wearing that outfit. And where is Rudolf? But it might also make you feel slightly uncomfortable. He is as much out of place as all the other people in the photo. What are they doing there? Escaping their First World worries by enjoying an affordable holiday in a region with Third World problems such as poverty?
There is something uneasy about this type of tourism and photos can emphasize that aspect. What looks like a photo of Santa Claus is really a photo of one aspect of tourism in the Dominican Republic, and many other countries. Taking a critical and sometimes satirical look is part of travel photography.
Force luck your way
After many years of travel photography, the concept of luck has taken on a whole new meaning. Is waking up early and climbing a mountain to reach the summit – only to find an overcast sky that obscures the sunrise – bad luck?
One thing is for sure: sleeping in is the surest way to miss a sunrise. Being out there, on your feet, is a prerequisite for forcing luck your way. So is letting time work for you. It is like taking luck out of the equation all together. Climbing the mountain for a second or third time will bring you that sunrise.
In Rome, I returned many times to the Colosseum because the story needed one or two amazing photos of this Roman landmark. And how about driving to a beautiful strech of the Via Appia at the end of the day, with just the warm afternoon light on my side? It was deserted. Then I saw a few cyclists but, to avoid the bumpy ancient stones, they all took a detour away from the very place I wanted to photograph them at.
I waited. And waited. The sun was setting. But waiting is an amazing recipe. It always works. Sure enough, a wedding couple turned up and walked right up to me, to spend ten minutes shooting photos at exactly that spot I had selected. Lucky me.
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