Travel Photography on the Quick
Like a lot of people, my wife and I love to travel. Going to areas different to our own, meeting the locals and learning what makes each location unique, it’s an awesome experience.
Unfortunately, we can’t all be like Bob Krist, the famous National Geographic photographer who’s done some great travel-videos for Nikon.
You should check them out (click here). He also writes a column for Outdoor Photographer which I greatly enjoy.
The reality is, if it’s a “normal” vacation (not a “photographic-expedition”), you don’t have the time or the money to camp out a day or two for each picture, waiting for your ship to come in, or the sun to be just right, or that cute little kid to move just a few more centimeters over so you can get the perfect composition.
Making sure you have the right equipment to capture the scenes you want to can be a challenge. You want to be able to capture everything, from dawn to dusk, and at focal-lengths from 8mm to 1000mmm, and also be able to carry it on the plane and at your destination.
Another challenge is the fact that you can’t always optimize the exact time you visit someplace or you’re not traveling alone, and they’re not photographers, burdening their trip by slowing them down each time you take a picture.
On our last 2 vacations, to Canada and Japan, I shot around 7500 pictures at each location.
This may sound like a lot, but many of these were brackets and framing changes to try and get as good a shot in as little time as possible, plus I shoot a lot of little “detail shots” to give a better feel of the locale.
These can be very quick-edits in the slideshow, and help make the viewer feel more like they’re there with you.
My last “film” vacation to France, I took 82-rolls of Kodak MAX with me (and, yes, the customs people were nice enough to hand-check it all for me).
On our last 2 “flying” vacations (as opposed to our last “road-trip”), I took my Nikon D70, my Sigma 18-125 zoom lens, my Velbon tripod, and my Nikon 70-200 VR zoom lens, many SanDisk and Lexar Compact-flash cards, my SmartDisk portable hard-drive, some Kenko extension-rings (for Macro) and a Kenko tele-extender. All stuffed into a Tamrac Expedition 5 backpack.
This is a nice little lens, with some distortion (mainly barrel, but also some sine-distortion which can be a little harder to fix in Photoshop).
It also has some vignetting (BadDog says his doesn’t vignette, I have a suspicion it’s because of the Canon’s 1.6x crop-factor Vs. Nikon’s 1.5x), and, on my Nikon, tends to go a little “green”, color-temperature wise. These are both easily fixed in Photoshop.
My new travel set-up (and also my wife’s), will be my Nikon D200 with a Nikon 18-200mm VR lens, some Hoya 72mm Close-up filters (for macro) and some Grad ND filters, and, maybe, my Velbon tripod, along with some SanDisk and Lexar 4gb compact-flash cards.
This is great, one lens that will do almost everything I need, and allow me to do more because it has the Vibration Reduction (VR) to enable me more shooting latitude. Now, my 70-200VR Nikon lens is a lot sharper at 200mm than the 18-200 VR, but the 18-200 is so good, that for the majority of my vacation-shooting (rushed and handheld), it is perfect.
Now, lest you think this is an “ad” for Nikon (it’s not, I pay for everything I own, usually from B&H, SAMYs, Calumet, Silvio’s, Adorama, Abe’s of Maine, ProPhoto Connection, KEH, or Tuttle’s Cameras), I’ll give you some tips on how I shoot.
Now, like I said earlier, I’m usually traveling with at least my wife, and, quite often, other people. I try and do my best to not slow us down as we try and get in as much of the culture and scenery our vacation time allows.
This doesn’t mean that “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium” type of rushing, seeing a city a day, but we also probably won’t spend a full day at one museum or Cathedral.
I’ll make sure, the night before, that all my files are downloaded onto my SmartDisk and all my batteries are charged (I usually carry 3, which will take me a long day’s journey into night), and my lenses are clean, as well as my filters. If I have to (such as our Japan trip), I’ll bring an American-standard power strip, fitted with a plug adaptor, to make sure I have plenty of outlets for all the chargers.
I pack my waist-bag (or sling-bag) and make sure it has all my memory-cards, spare batteries, filters, and lens cloth. I only use my backpack for getting the equipment to the location, and then I try and lighten the burden during our stay.
I also pack a spare memory-card holder to put my cards in once they’re filled with pictures.
Having said that, usually the first day of an extended stay, we’ll take a tour-bus so we can see what’s out there and where it’s at, then we pick what we’d like to explore more fully and walk (or take the Metro) on subsequent days.
I have a neck-strap for my cameras (made by Tamrac), but I usually snap it off and use a handstrap (also by Tamrac, but I just got a new one by Matin from Epicsoftware.com, so I’m anxious to try it out (go to the right Bestsellers column and click on Leather handgrip).
The handstrap allows me to keep my “trigger finger” ready, and allows me to get my camera into position much faster when a photo-op arrives. (Ask me about the time when I was holding my D70 by the handstrap out the window of a moving double-decker bus…).
I usually have my camera pre-set to either Shutter-priority, Aperture-priority, or Program, depending on the lighting and circumstances of the environment where we’re at. I usually use a fairly high ISO (200-300) so I can have a faster shutter-speed to capture those fleeting moments.
This helps to ensure the subject of interest in my picture is at least properly exposed. Many times, when you’re on vacation, you’re out in the bright sun of high-noon, and since you might not get a chance to grab this shot again, this helps to keep from under- or over-exposing your subject.
I don’t use flash much when I travel, preferring to keep more of a candid approach to my pictures and trying to travel light. Flash can also help to balance out the light and shadows, but it also calls attention to you, which can make people react differently.
If you can brace your camera on a tripod or a wall, and use a remote-control (or the camera’s self-timer), you can get some great shots at night.
I try and keep my ISO at around 800 or less, but I’ve had some great results at ISOs up to 1600 from my D70. I think the D70 is a little less noisier than my D200 (I’d guess from the lower pixel count), but they’ve both given me great results at night, handheld, with high ISOs.
Probably the best piece of equipment you can take with you on your vacation, and something not everybody has, are a set of “Observant Eyes”.
I’ve been on vacation with people, that, when we return and they look at my shots, they say “Where’d you see that?” even though they were standing right next to me when I took it!
Look all around, at the people, the buildings, the signs…everything, because you never know where a good shot might be hiding.
Head on a swivel. Anticipate moments, take it all in, have your camera ready, and snap away.
So, get out there, take a great vacation, and get some great shots.
Then you can enjoy the best part of going abroad…coming back home.