In previous articles I discussed the modern day definition of travel photography, and provided examples of equipment lists that you might need for short medium and long trips. This time I am going to present my thoughts on planning a trip – what you need to think about before you go, and what to do when you’re there.
As a simple way of remembering these tips I used the mnemonic DESIRE – Destination, Equipment, Shots, Interest, Respect, Experience. I already covered equipment in my previous post so I won’t go into that again, but the rest of the points are discussed below.
Researching a destination can give you a real advantage before you even board the plane. The internet makes it very easy now to find out more about the places you are heading to. Sites like Flickr allow you to search for shots taken in the same areas and help in planning what equipment you might need and what sort of things you might be photographing.
If I’m heading to a place that has an iconic tourist location that I want to photograph, I often use Google maps to see if there’s a less clichéd angle I can get. A perfect example if the Taj Mahal. Many people shoot it front on from within the compound. However if you head into Agra town and over the river you can get down to the other side. With the river flowing below it the site can look just as impressive, but is less of a common viewpoint.
Think about the style of shots you take. Using a variety adds excitement and helps to tell a story.
Use wide shots to set the scene, mid-range shots to highlight something or someone interesting, and close up shots to show the details.
Vary the time you take your shots. Get up early as places are often very different first thing as the sun rises and the locals hit the market before the tourists are up and about. Stay out late, after sunset, and explore the nightlife of the location. Again, things can look very different under artificial lighting (or firelight!).
In some ways this is similar to the section above, but where “shots” is about how and when you take a photography, “interest” is more about the subject you are capturing.
Make sure you capture things like local flavour, different cultures, ruins of a past age, the people that live there, food and markets and for sights that are in danger of disappearing altogether it might be your last chance to see them.
Respect is all about adapting to the local way of life and remembering the country you’re in may have very different customs and attitudes to those you are used to.
I always try to learn some of the local language. I’m not suggesting you become fluent, but even knowing simple basics is always appreciated by locals. Don’t forget important cultural differences. Cover your head if needed, greet (and eat) with the correct hand, and dress appropriately.
If you want to take a portrait of someone, ask them first. Try to engage them in conversation, learn a little about them and their life and spend a few moments with them, rather than just trying to take a quick snap on the sly. You’ll end up with a much more honest photograph.
I also keep a travel journal mainly so I can remember where I’ve been! Captioning a shot as being one place when in fact it is another, or misspelling something is also not very respectful.
Finally, experience the places you visit. Get out there and mix with the locals. Chat to them and grab a drink at the local cafes. Explore and wander off the normal beaten path (of course watching your safety at all times).
Photographs provide a reminder or the trips and places you have gone to. But make sure you have a great experience for them to remind you of.
So in summary – plan before you go, scope out locations and interesting viewpoints, learn some basic local language, chat and spend time with the locals, take a range of different shots of varying subjects and ultimately, have a good time!