Travel photography tips by Aleksandra Hristov
I have never considered myself as a photographer, but I can say I’ve always been a visual apprentice.As a computer engineer who drifted off into web design (and has a really, awfully, terrible memory!) I tend to keep a written and visual diary of my memories.
The passion for traveling began in 2006 and since then I have tried to capture the moments of my life in photo-captions as much as I write stuff down in my travel journal. As a former blogger and someone who’s been writing long e-mails to answer friends’ questions regarding places I’ve visited before, I had to start my blog turning my travel experience and photographs into an useful online journal.
Here are some photography tips I’ve picked up along the way.
1. Capture the spirit of the streets
The beauty of a city is not in its buildings, it’s in the people among those buildings. Learn more about the place before you go and besides the common touristic sights, learn about the events going on during your stay, ask about summer fiestas, festivals and places close by that are worth visiting, and walk as much as you can instead of using public transportation. Try to capture everyday-life moments while you walk around. And always visit the open-air (food) markets, you can learn a lot about a culture by the stuff they sell there.
2. Talk to the locals
Yeah, you could always zoom in and capture a great moment of a person looking different than people in your culture while doing something that nobody in your city would do… but think about whether you’d want anyone taking photos of you without your permission while walking through your city? Even though it’s a bit flattering, I’d say I’d want to know where that photo would end up.
Take a moment and talk to the locals, then you could take a photo together with them, or ask them to continue with their work so you could take a decent photo. If you’re not keen on talking, then you could just point to your camera and mimic a question, even if you’re turned down it’s not a big deal. From my experience even Arabs who don’t want their pictures taken allowed me to make a quick snap… showing them the photo afterwards would be a nice gesture as well. As a bonus, you could find out about places worth visiting and taking photos of! If you do happen to shoot someone from far away, not having the chance to engage with them, try not to show their faces on your photo and have respect for their privacy.
Some of the photos might not have the “artistic” value, but it will sure be a memory you’d want to have captured on film.
3. Eat and drink stuff you haven’t tried before
Everyone has tried croissants, but have they tried the different types of French ones and a huge raspberry macaroon that can actually make you cry out of happiness? How about a garlic prepared salmon, fresh Cuban fruits or Swiss chocolates? Those mouth-watering images can be the most popular among your friends, asking you about the tastes you’ve experienced or whether you’ve brought back something for them. Always drink the local wine and beer!
4. Show the details
Sometimes you’ve noticed a detail and you’ve snapped a wide picture, but if you haven’t zoomed in for that detail, nobody that is seeing the photo will notice it. Sometimes even a photo of your toes at the beach can tell a lot of things… that you drank beer and that the sand is fine :)
Zoom in and tell a story about that picture that people might not notice otherwise.
5. Mind the nature around you
A huge part of the life in a place can be determined by the specific flora and fauna, especially if there are plants and animals you don’t usually see at your surroundings. Let them speak about the different and beautiful nature of the country you’re visiting. These are the times you would be grateful if you have your camera on stand-by mode so you can easily shoot the moment before your subject moves.
6. Use the light and shadows
Avoid using flash! It will definitely ruin your photos… try to set up your camera as best as you can and use the light in your favor. Use the “golden” hours wisely, the ones around sunrise and sunset and get the golden touch into your photos. If the sun goes straight in your lens, use it to create a silhouette perfect photo instead of having cut-off faces staring in a weird way because of that sudden flash. At night, use the slowness of your shutter to capture movement. I’ll use my favorite quote that is important in drawing and photography as much as in life: “Remember, the shadows are just as important as the light.”- Jane Eyre
7. Put yourself (and your friends) out there
Wherever you go, someone has already made perfect photos of the place/buildings/monuments, so your photos won’t count as special unless you put a part of yourself into them. Not meaning that you should have an album with 3000 photos of you in the same position with the same face expression with a changing background. It’s a good tip to select your photos and publish only the best ones, the ones you’re proud of and has something interesting to tell.
Think about why you take your photos, for you, for your friends, for printing posters, etc… and adopt your style of capturing a photo according to that. Are the photos for yourself? Snap that moment at sunset while the waves splash through the rocks and bunch of people sit by the coastline. You want to show them to your parents? They won’t care about those rocks, they’ll want to see you out there, even if it’s your back that is captured. Try to avoid striking a pose and try to do what the locals do and engage with the environment telling your side of the story… and have fun! Including your friends that you travel with is also a good way to go.
Even if someone else takes your photo, you’d still have a better photo than just taking a snapshot of someone else doing the same things. And, you can always use the crop tool :D
8. About the gear
First I used a dummy camera earned from my first waiting tables during one summer, and after breaking two of those, I decided to make a jump and buy a DSLR couple of years ago.
I love my camera, but it’s a pain in the ass to carry around, especially when I have a full bag of stuff carrying with me as well (I’m just a girl, after all). So, I decide and choose one lens depending of whether I’m planning to take photos of people and details (50mm) or monuments and buildings (18-105mm, so heavy!) during the day… and I always have my phone as a back up. I wouldn’t mind having a 35mm for a light city sightseeing, either.
Even though shooting in RAW gives you a huge freedom in editing your photos, while you travel the memory limit is quite important, so put your efforts into learning your camera at home and setting it up before shooting according to your environment… aaand shoot in JPG format (photographers would kill me for this one). Take extra memory cards if you go on a longer trip, go through and delete spoilt photos once a day and charge your battery during the night!
You can’t afford an expensive camera? The idea is what makes you different, not the expensive camera. I used a small cheap pocket camera for years and lots of Photoshop before I even dared to think and buy a DSLR… but once you set your mind to something, you can always work your ass off and effectively save your money! Just make a decision about your priorities and what you want… I did save for a camera for a long time, but I’d still rather buy a plane ticket to somewhere instead of buying a flash and extra gear for a more professional approach.
p.s. Don’t forget to keep your stuff safe! Never carry your camera in a backpack on your back (keep it to the front), keep your bag always close to you at all times covered with your hand, check your documents and phone often and don’t put them in reachable pockets, don’t lock expensive equipment in a car trunk even if there are cameras around. Putting a small paper with your e-mail address with begging words to send you the photos might not help, but if there’s at least a bit of humanity in the thieves, you might get your photos back.
9. The phone sometimes is your best friend
I use my smartphone a lot and post quite often on instagram, making it the easiest way to share my photos while I’m traveling somewhere, especially at times when I’m unable to carry my “real” camera with me. In this case, it’s not about any of the technical perfection of the photography, it’s about capturing those moments you couldn’t otherwise.
10. Keep on traveling!
No matter whether you’re abroad or in your own country, get out of your city and daily routines at least once every couple of months. I’ve learnt that Macedonia has so many places to explore, beautiful landscapes and nature, some of them just an hour away from Skopje. I have been to a lot of them, but still haven’t been everywhere I want… it’s a good way to charge your batteries and seek more inspiration in your surroundings to keep you refreshed for the daily life in the city.