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Photography Tips – Maximize Travel Photography

6 Travel Photography Tips

There are two kinds of people in the world, photographers and non-photographers. Let me rephrase that… there are photographers and “photo-takers.” Photographers strive to learn what all the settings on their camera can do. They are students of light and willing to wait for hours in one spot until conditions are perfect. Their travel bags are filled with more camera gear than clean underwear. Post shoot, they will fawn over photos in editing programs for days, gently coaxing sliders to bring out the best in each scene. They would never dream of putting out their creations for public consumption until each is optimized. Photographers are driven by one aim; to freeze a perfect moment in time.

Photo-takers are happy to take advantage of their camera’s sophisticated auto settings. They are point-and-shoot warriors; attacking a scene with sniper-like precision, retreating and uploading to social media in a single fluid motion. In-camera editing and photo filters are their allies. They are thrilled when their camera produces a professional-looking image, but don’t necessarily need to know how.

Photographers and photo-takers usually coexist peacefully in their parallel universes, but mixing the two types during travel can be stressful for both. This was personally illustrated for me on recent business trip with seven associates, all non-photographers. While preparing for the trip, I had a passing thought to leave the gear behind, but we were traveling to a number of Scandinavian countries and the idea of going camara-less for nearly a month was too much to bear. The only alternative was to figure out a way to travel lightly and shoot stealthily. Get in and get out. In essence, to behave like a photo-taker.

For the most part, it worked out well. I didn’t get yelled at once for holding things up. There was one incident on a crowded airport shuttle when another photographer and I engaged in conversation about a technical subject; causing eyes to roll before someone murmured, “boring,” but that was the only sign I was not among kindred spirits. Though it wasn’t easy to walk away from scenes I knew in an hour or would be stellar, and I’m not entirely happy with the photos I managed to grab, there were at least a few that will make it into a travel album. Others simply mark a spot I’d like to revisit and spend the time needed to make a memorable image.

Since photographers are so vastly outnumbered by photo-takers, who include friends, family members, and business associates – here are 6 travel photography tips to help you peacefully tour with them and still  grab a few good shots on the go.

1. Downsize

Prior to this trip, I’d traded in my weighty Nikon D800 for the svelte Sony Alpha 7 II. Although I have a 70-200mm lens, I chose to bring a much smaller Zeiss 16-35mm f/4, and 55mm f/1.8 prime lenses. I also carried a MeFOTO DayTrip Tripod (1.8 lbs). The camera body and lenses fit nicely in a Think Tank Photo Retrospective 5 Shoulder Bag with room to spare, so it was easy to carry just about everywhere.

2. Keep Your Gear Handy

Keeping your gear light and fitting it in a single bag for travel is a no-brainer. You’re likely to have it with you at the right time and won’t have to kick yourself later for missing that once-in-a-lifetime shot.

3. Get to Know Your Smartphone Camera

For those times when your gear bag is not accessible, don’t overlook the camera you almost always have with you. The latest generation of smartphone cameras come with a variety of manual setting options and take quality images. Look for DSLR-like settings such as EV, ISO, White Balance, Metering modes, and more. Shooting modes might include selective focus and panorama , and there are an ever increasing number of shooting and processing apps. Of course, relying on your camera phones puts you dangerously close to “photo-taker” ranks, but you can always distinguish yourself by actually knowing how to use all the settings and apps, and thoughtful compositions.

4. Practice, Practice, Practice

If you want to grab any noteworthy scenes on the fly, you have to turn yourself into a fine-tuned photography machine. This means knowing exactly what settings to use and when. You also need muscle memory to find them, like playing a musical instrument. Practice enough and eventually you can dial in the right settings without consciously thinking about it.

5. Push Your Point of View

Set yourself apart from photo-takers by looking for unique ways to approach a subject. There is a great number of similar images posted to the Internet every day. If you watch photo-takers at iconic travel destinations, it’s easy to see why. Nearly every one of them walks to the same vantage spot, points, shoots, and walks away. If possible, get closer… go farther… walk around… get high or low… tilt the frame… do whatever it takes to bring a fresh perspective to the subject.

6. Treat yourself to Photo-centric Travel

Check out the growing number of trips, tours and workshops designed to accommodate photographers. You’ll have the benefit of instructor/guides bringing you to the right place at the right time, and be surrounded by likeminded people who enjoy photography as much as you do, making it so much more fun to travel and share.


Canal scene in Copenhagen Denmark.

Sony A7II | FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA | 1/250 sec | f/7.1 | ISO 400

Alaska Photo Treks offers photography tours year round.  Sunset Photo Safari operates May- September.  Twilight Photo Tour runs September-April. Departure times for both tours are dependent on sunset, which at this latitude changes dramatically throughout the year. The times for each week are posted on the respective pages for each tour. Cell phone photographers will enjoy the fun, fast-paced InstAlaska Smartphone Photography Tour. Winter months also include the northern lights viewing adventure, Anchorage Aurora Quest. Explore Alaska Photo Treks to learn more about these excellent, instructional day tours and multi-day tours and workshops.


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