1. Get off the Beaten Track
With an estimated 3 billion cameras currently being used globally, an unprecedented amount of images are now being produced every day. Services such as Instagram see over 40million uploads daily, meaning that nearly every spot on earth has at some point more than likely been captured in a photograph. As a travel photographer looking to break into an already oversaturated market, the key is to be different. By getting ‘off the beaten track’ you can seek the few images and stories that may not have been photographed before.
2. Research the Area
Researching each area you visit beforehand is important to give yourself the best possible chance to make amazing images. When travelling to more remote areas it may be advisable to employ the help of a guide. As a photographer I recommend ditching the ‘tour guide’ and looking to employ local photographers, cultural experts or even like-minded local people who will be much more useful than a guide who is looking to make a commission at every stop.
3. Understand Cultural Sensitivities
Part of your research into an area should include an understanding of the culture and religion of the people and places you wish to photograph. Understanding how to approach your subjects will prevent any cultural fauxpas which may jeopardise your relationship.
4. Ditch the Long Lens
When photographing people I prefer to reject the use of long lenses in favour of shorter, wider lenses. By using shorter lenses you are forced into interacting with your subjects and forming a relationship with them before photographing them. This often allows you the opportunity to photograph your subject more intimately and in general the resulting images are much more powerful than a long lens candid image where there is no connection with the subject.
5. Travel Light
K.I.S.S (Keep it simple stupid) is a great saying to remember when packing your gear for travel. With ever decreasing luggage restrictions it has never been more important to travel lightly. Personally my gear consists of 2 x Nikon D7000, Tokina 11-16 f2.8, Sigma 20mm f1.8, Nikon 35mm f1.8, Nikon 50mm f1.4 and Nikon 85mm f1.8 alongside a Nikon SB700, Manfrotto ML840, a Lastolite Ezybox and a couple of smaller accessories. The total weight of all this gear is only a little over 4kgs and allows me to travel quickly without being hindered with heavy bags of gear. In keeping with the lightweight travel theme, I also keep my personal gear down to about 8kg including my laptop and hard drives which means I can comfortably carry all my gear for a couple of miles on my back for those obligatory treks to remote villages where roads may be none existent.
6. Use Prime Lenses
Recently I have made the jump from travelling with zoom lenses to a prime lens based set-up. The wider aperture on prime lenses allows shooting in low light situations such as fire-lit rooms, scenes lit by small shafts of light and other places where the light is weaker but more dramatic. Prime lenses also force you to zoom with your feet and as a result force you to look for different viewpoints rather than just staying static and zooming in.
7. Control Exposure
When shooting in dramatic lighting situations it is important to take control of the exposure from your camera. When the lighting situation is complicated, shooting in Auto mode may end in the camera becoming confused and trying to create an even exposure. By manually controlling the exposure and metering for the highlights in the scene you can harness the dramatic lighting. Sometimes allowing detail to be lost in the shadows of an image can actually help to create a stronger atmosphere in the image.
8. Beat the Crowds
Every photographer should know that the lighting is often best at the beginning and end of the day (but not always!). Coincidentally the beginning and the ends of the day also tend to be the time when most tour groups are either still in bed or out eating dinner. As a travel photographer these are the ideal times to be out shooting! Don’t be the lazy one and follow the crowds, be proactive and get out there shooting whilst all the other tourists are elsewhere.
9. Focus on the Light
I have already mentioned this a few times but the key to great photography is great light! Good light creates drama, adds shape and texture and can add amazing colours to your images. In all aspects of photography I suggest chasing the light and not the subject. When you find amazing light the subject will fall into place but rarely the other way around. One image with amazing light is worth more than any number of images shot in boring flat lighting.
10. Look for a Story
The final step to creating amazing travel images is looking for a story or viewpoint that will help to create a cohesive body of work from your images. Producing a story with your images will allow the viewers to connect with them much better than with just a single image. A single photograph may be worth 1000 words but a group of photographs is more many thousand more. The key to creating good photo essays is to create a group of images that flow and complement each other whilst all being distinctly different so that they all tell their individual part of the story.