Travel and Vacation Photography Tips, Part 1

June 28, 2014

Travel and Vacation Photography Tips, Part 1

It's vacation time! And as we head out, many of us will be bringing along our camera. Here are some tips to help you snap great vacation shots.

Research, research, research!

Do some research beforehand to find out as much as you can about your destination. Look through area guidebooks like those published by Lonely Planet or Rough Guides. Do Internet searches. Be on the lookout for locations that are repeatedly photographed. These are often places that are especially picturesque or of particular local interest. The idea isn't necessarily to copy these photos but rather to capture the area in a way that is uniquely yours.

Find out about any special events or festivals that may be taking place while you are there. Learn about any noteworthy architecture, important monuments, historical sites and interesting communities in the area. Read up on travel blogs and sites to get ideas for little known, off-the-beaten-path locations.

When you arrive at your destination, make friends with the locals and ask about any favorite and interesting spots that you should visit. Talk to your hotel concierge. Peruse the postcards at local shops for ideas on popular and not-so-popular attractions.

Know your camera.

Learn to use your camera before you go on vacation.

vacation photography tips

Canon PowerShot SX280 HS

It's easy to miss a shot while fumbling around with your equipment. And that can be especially problematic when you are on vacation, in a remote locale, for what could be a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. You may very well not have another chance to get that shot.

So before you pack up your suitcase, spend some time getting familiar with your camera and its controls and settings. That way, you will be up and running and ready to snap pictures as soon as you get to your destination.

Be sure you know how to:

  • Change and replace the memory storage card.
  • Recharge the battery.
  • Move images from the camera to a computer or an external storage device.
  • Turn the flash on and off and how to use fill flash if you camera features that as an option.
  • Work with the camera's self timer.
  • Learn about your camera's image stabilization system if it has one.
  • Control your camera's focusing.
  • Change the ISO setting.
  • Work with the white balance settings.
  • Shoot a panoramic image if your camera has that feature.
  • Work with your camera's scene modes and know when to use each. If you are shooting with a more advanced camera, learn how and when to use the Aperture- and Shutter-priority modes.
  • Fine tune exposure using exposure compensation and, if you are shooting with a more advanced model camera, learn to use its exposure bracketing feature.

Pack right, pack light.

Deciding what camera equipment you should take when traveling can be tricky. You want to have what you need—there's nothing worse than being unable to get the shot that you want because you left a lens at home—but you also want to travel light.

So, before packing, give it some thought and try to tailor what you bring along to both your destination and the types of images you are hoping to capture.

Here's a list to get you thinking:

Camera

The first decision you will need to make is whether to bring a full size DSLR or something smaller. There are obvious pros and cons with each. A smaller, compact camera is easier to carry around but it also limits your shooting choices.

Ultimately, the decision should rest on which type camera you are more likely to carry around with you. If you suspect that you'll find the weight and bulkiness of a DSLR cumbersome, then you're better off bringing a smaller camera.

If you are driving to your destination and packing isn't as much of an issue, you may want to consider leaving your options open and bringing both. It can be very handy to have a point and shoot camera available for those times—think active daytrips and wet excursions—when it may be inconvenient or impractical to carry along a DSLR.

If your vacation destination includes water, you may want to invest in a waterproof camera so that you can take your photography adventures with you wherever without concern for ruining your equipment.

By the way, if you're traveling by plane, be sure to keep your camera and equipment safe by taking it as carry-on luggage.

Lenses

If you are bringing an SLR, you will need to decide what lenses to bring along. When choosing these lenses, aim for flexibility in terms of focal length so that you can shoot using everything from wide angle to long telephoto.

There are two options here.

You can opt to bring along a single lens (sometimes called an All-in-One or Superzoom) that covers a wide range of focal lengths. For example, the Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD lens is available for Nikon, Canon, Sony and Pentax brand cameras with cropped sensors, and has an approximate 28- 419mm (35mm equivalent) focal range.

The advantage of the single lens approach is convenience and flexibility. The disadvantage is that these All-in-One lenses tend to be large and bulky, some may show distortion at the extreme ends of their focal length range and they frequently feature relatively large maximum apertures, making them a bit slow and not well–suited to shooting in low-light conditions.

The other option is to take two lenses that collectively cover a large focal range. So you could bring a mid-range zoom such as the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM AutoFocus Zoom Lens (approx. 38-112mm 35mm equivalent) along with a telephoto zoom like the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 DI LD (IF) Macro Telephoto Zoom Lens (approx. 105-300mm 35mm equivalent)

The two lens approach means carrying more equipment but, since the lenses both are wide aperture zoom lenses, it also means added flexibility in terms of lens speed and low-light shooting.

Another consideration is macro. Personally, I love shooting macro. So, if room isn't an issue, I highly recommend bringing along a dedicated macro lens, especially if you are looking to capture up close and personal images of flowers, fauna and insects. But, really, macro lenses are about so much more than bugs eyes and raindrops on a leaf. Many subjects have tiny details that are screaming to be photographed close-up. And macro lenses make for great portrait lenses too, because they are able to capture distinguishing features—eyes, mouth, dimples, etc.—in wonderfully sharp focus.

So bring a macro lens along if you can. But if room is at a premium, consider one of the more portable macro options:

  • Extension tubes attach between the camera body and lens to increase the subject magnification.
  • A diopter or close-up lens is a filter-like attachment that screws onto the front of the camera lens and acts like a magnifying glass to increase the subject magnification.

By the way, you'll find many DSLR zoom lenses labeled "Macro". While these lenses can allow you to focus up close to your subject, they are not true macro lenses because they don't offer the level of magnification that is, by definition, macro. Now that's not to say that a macro zoom isn't a worthwhile investment. I have a number of macro zooms and I find that they are great, all-purpose lens especially since I like having the flexibility of shooting from a short distance. But true macro lenses are always prime—single focal length—lenses. So you'll want to keep that in mind if you are interested in shooting images that capture tiny subjects in nearly life-size proportion.

And here's one more thing. Most point and shoot cameras now feature a Macro shooting mode. So check out the manual to see if it's available on your particular model.

A good quality and low key camera bag

A good quality camera bag is especially important when you're traveling because you want to keep your equipment safe and protected from the elements as you haul it around. And a good bag will help you keep your equipment and peripherals organized and in one place so that you're ready to go at a moment's notice.

So look for a bag that fits all your stuff but isn't overly cumbersome or bulky.

And consider getting a bag that doesn't look like a camera bag. Most camera bags scream, "I'm a tourist!" or, worse yet, "Expensive stuff in here!" A number of companies—Kelly Moore, Jill-e, Ona, Jo Totes —make fashion camera bags that don't look like what they are and most don't show a brand label on the outside. They're perfect for times when you don't want to be too obvious.

vacation photography tips

A lightweight tripod, monopod or camera support

A full size tripod is an essential piece of equipment for me when I photographing at home. But it's a bear to travel with.

Luckily a full-sized tripod isn't the only option available for stabilizing your camera. Here are some alternatives:

  • Monopod/Unipod

    A monopod (also called a unipod) is a lot like a tripod, but instead of having three legs, a monopod features a single telescoping leg. Since a monopod is smaller and more lightweight than a tripod it's a more portable alternative. Yet, this type of single leg support can give your camera enough stability to eliminate camera shake with longer shutter speeds. And, using a monopod will sometimes allow you to situate your camera in places and positions that aren't accessible with a tripod.

  • Mini tripod or tablepod

    Another option is a mini tripod or a tablepod. These small tripods are compact and lightweight, usually measuring from 6 to 12 inches in height, and can slip easily into a pocket or bag. Although a mini tripod probably won't get your camera to the required height- - you'll need the top of a wall or a table top or the roof of your car for that -- it will serve to steady your camera and hold it at the desired angle to allow you to get your shot.

    One example of a mini tripod is the Joby Gorillapod, a camera support that features flexible legs. The Gorillapod can be used as a short standing tripod or its flexible legs can be wrapped around objects like tree branches, fence posts and poles to hold and secure your camera.

  • Beanbag

    Finally, a beanbag camera support is another small and portable option for stabilizing your camera. Beanbag supports feature a camera mount attached to, you guessed it, a beanbag. You can set these up just about anywhere --on the ground or on a large rock or on top of a fence or a wall. And beanbag supports are very flexible, allowing you to steady and secure your camera on top of irregular and uneven objects and at a variety of different angles.

Or, if all of these options are just too much baggage, improvise. Try resting your camera on a stable surface—a fence, a large rock, a counter top or table, a shelf or a stack of books—to steady and support it. Use the camera's self timer or employ a remote trigger so that you can keep your hands off of the shutter button during that all-important moment. Utilize your camera's image stabilization system to keep your images sharp. Learn to work with your camera's ISO setting to increase shutter speed and reduce camera shake.

The accessories

And don't forget…

  • Laptop or portable hard drive (and/or a reliable connection route to connect to your preferred cloud storage)
  • Extra memory cards
  • Extra batteries and/or battery charger
  • Travel adapter if you are traveling out of the country
  • Cables and cords
  • A set of ND grad filters
  • Lens and camera cleaning supplies, especially if you will be shooting on windy, wet coastlines.
  • Camera Manual

Okay, now that we're all packed and ready to go, it's time to talk about tips for getting great vacation shots. And that's exactly what we'll do in our next post




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