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Daniela Bowker's 10 Best Travel Photography Tips
One of the tremendous benefits of my job as a writer-come-photographer is the numerous travel opportunities that it presents.
1. Make a wish-list
Even if you like to be spontaneous on your travels, it's always a good idea to have a wish-list of things that you would like to see or experience while you're away. Your list doesn't have to be exhaustive and neither do you have to tick off everything on it, and it certainly isn't intended as a minute-by-minute schedule of your time away: it's there to help you plan and ensure that you don't miss your must-see highlights.
Before I left for Thailand, one of the trips I knew I wanted to make was to the Bridge on the River Kwai and Hellfire Pass, constructed by prisoners of war during World War II.
You wouldn't want to miss out on a tour of the Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai because you didn't know which days it were open; or not experience the atmosphere around Hong Kong Central station on a Sunday when the peninsular's army of live-in maids congregate to sing, paint their nails, chat, and eat because you stayed on Kowloon that day.
Having a vague plan will mean that you get to experience some of the drama and wonder of travelling but still have the opportunity to relax.
2. Be prepared
Before you go away, think about the type of photography that you'll be doing and pack your kit accordingly. When you go on safari, you'll be wanting some serious fire power from long lenses, but an extended weekend in Florence will probably need more discreet and versatile glass. Will you need a tripod, or can you get away with a monopod and some beanbags?
Without a tripod, this shot of Sydney Opera House by night would never have been possible.
While I definitely advocate being prepared, don't feel that you need to take everything and the kitchen sink with you. There's no point in schlepping kit halfway across the world if you won't have the opportunity to use it or if you can't carry it on an excursion, anyway. It's a waste of energy and raises the threat of theft. You can afford to be selective.
If you don't have what you need, don't feel that you have to go out and buy it, either. Renting kit is a cost-effective means of getting what you want.
3. Be ready
Photo opportunities are everywhere and you want to be ready to pounce when you see one. You don't want to miss out on shots because your camera was switched off or because the exposure settings were out by a country mile. When you’re out and about with your camera, be ready. Remember to re-set your ISO and shutter speed after a night shoot. Have you camera to hand on a bus or train, not in the luggage compartment. And have a smartphone or compact camera with you when you pop out for a bottle of water. You never know what you might see!
If my camera hadn't have been in my lap, I would never have captured this image of the Dawn Princess sailing into Auckland.
4. Tell the story
Every photo tells a story, and the photos from your travels should tell the story of your trip. That means it isn’t just about capturing the monuments and the famous views, but about recording the little things that convey the sense of being a stranger in a strange land and that bring a trip to life.
Petrol sold from glass bottles on the roadside in Bali was a common sight.
When you look at your travel photos you want to be transported back to the hustle and bustle of the souq in Marrakech; your friends and family who weren’t there need to sense the crush, the smell, the heat. My photos from Bali include stone lions guarding temples, the bottles of petrol you see for sale by the side of the road, and the pile of medicine I was prescribed when I fell ill. My time there is charted in pictures, big to small.
Getting ill and being prescribed a small pharmacy of medicine was an important part of my Bali story, too.
5. Get off the beaten track
I’m a huge advocate of eating in local restaurants and taking the bus to an isolated village half way up the mountain to see the frescoes in its church. It all adds to the experience. But when it comes to taking photos, I mean something more by 'getting off the beaten track'. I mean to avoid the hackneyed, the popular, and the obvious. When you’re looking to photograph famous monuments and well-known vistas, look for a fresh approach, an unusual angle, a different feel.
I have wonderful photos of the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, Sicily, but this image of my father peeling a blood orange in a secluded grove away from the crowds means so much more.
6. Be bold
If you want striking photos, much of the time you have to go out there and make them happen. Sometimes you will chance to be in the right place at the right time, but that's not usually the case. Don't be timid with your camera.
Only by talking to these women and promising them anonymity was I able to take their photos and tell the story of thousands of women gathering by Hong Kong Central station on Sunday.
The only way my series 'Amah's day off' (http://photocritic.org/amahs-day-off-or-how-to-shoot-your-story/) happened was because I asked if I could take photos. All around Hong Kong Central there were thousands of women, having a Sunday lunchtime equivalent of a teenaged girl's slumber party. But no one would let me take their photo at this incredible spectacle. By actually being bold, approaching a group of women, and sitting down and talking with them, I managed to get the shots that told the story.
Crossing the border from Thailand to Myanmar took some planning, but it was worth it.
I was fortunate enough to take some wonderful photos when I visited Myanmar, but it was a marathon of an expedition and I needed a degree of determination to make sure I got there. Faint heart never made fair photo.
All the same: don't do anything illegal and don't do anything that would endanger you or anyone else. Which leads me on to point 7...
7. Take good care
The first time that I ever used a mandolin (one to prep vegetables, not the musical instrument) I was advised that carrots are cheaper than fingers. My approach to taking photos is similar. I’m worth more than my kit; and my safety is worth more than a photo. This means that I don’t wander blithely into insalubrious parts of town flashing my camera and I don’t ignore the signs telling me that landslips are likely owing to recent heavy rain. Don't be flagrant with your safety; it isn't worth it.
There was a certain element of risk in getting this photo at Ponytail Falls, Oregon, but it wasn’t off-limits.
However much care you do take, though, things can go wrong. Your kit might be stolen or it might suffer some kind of failure. To ensure that if the worst happens I won't have lost all of my photos, I make a point of rotating my memory cards. And if I travel with my laptop, I backup my photos to a hard drive, and if possible a cloud drive, at the end of every day.
The key thing is, your photos are worth more than your kit and you’re worth more than both of those.
8. Know 'the rules'
Photography is governed by rules, and while I think it's tremendously important for you to know these, and to break them properly, there's another set of rules that you really must abide by. These are the local rules, customs, and mores of your destination. Make sure that you know if taking photos of people is allowed; when and if you can photograph places of religious significance; if certain places are out-of-bounds at particular times of the day or week. You don't want to offend anyone where you're a guest and you definitely do not want to land yourself in trouble. However far removed other customs and practices seem from your own life, they do still need to be respected.
A nod to your camera and a smile can establish if photos are permitted.]
9. Set your alarm
Sunrise and sunset might present you with the best lighting opportunities for your photos, with sizzling stone, luscious landscapes, and perfect portraits, but early in the morning will show you a different side to where you’re staying. And you’ll escape the tourist crowds, too. It's definitely worth an early alarm call or two.
The 05:00 alarm call was worth it for sun-up at the ancient Thai capital of Ayutthaya.
10. Remember to put down your camera
Travel is about a whole lot more than your photos. It’s a wealth of experiences and encounters. When you’re constantly holding a camera to your face, it means that you can miss out on people, whether you’re family or anyone new. Remember to put down your camera from time to time, and just enjoy.
Daniela Bowker, author and curator, is a noted photography journalist (and photographer) with a keen eye on digital art. She is an editor of Photocrtic, author of Surreal Photography and a co-author of Michael Freeman’s Photo School Fundamentals. Both books are published by Focal Press.