In the 20-plus years since I discovered the joy of photography, I’ve been fortunate to travel all over the world, capturing everything from Italian cathedrals to the bamboo forests of Kyoto. Along the way, I’ve learned some tricks for making the most of photo opportunities wherever I find myself.
Whether you’re heading to the Amazon, the Alps or anywhere in between this summer, a little advance planning and a thoughtful approach can make all the difference when it comes to taking great travel photos. Following are some of my best tips for shooting amazing photos, no matter where your travels take you.
Research your location
It’s not enough to know the history of your site. You need to know its conditions today. Historic sites may have certain visiting hours. Are there restoration scaffolding up? Are you sure it’s even open? Do you know where the sun is going to rise and set —and when? You can get mobile apps to tell you some of this stuff, but you need current information in order to plan your shots.
Book for the view, not the bed
What a difference a comfortable bed can make when you travel. However, when you’re a photographer the bed has to come in second. Number one is the view. Never underestimate it. Maybe the view is from your balcony or the restaurant. The hotel could have terraces or rooftop access. You’d be amazed at some of the shots I’ve taken because I picked my lodging specifically because it overlooked a certain area in a certain way.
You may be able to filter in Photoshop, but the end result is usually inferior or impossible to re-create. Take polarizing and neutral density filters with you. A polarizing filter will help cut down on reflections from glass or water while helping you draw deeper contrast from the sky. A neutral density filter is invaluable for getting the right exposure to soften water. I experienced this first-hand on recent trips to Iceland, where it helped me get a soft, flowing effect on the country’s abundant waterfalls and on the swirling water that flows around beautiful ice formations on the black sand beaches of Jökulsárlón.
Find your focus
Autofocus systems have a remarkably difficult time in night conditions and generally aren’t the best way to focus unless you’re shooting a moving subject. Often, they can’t focus on anything with any accuracy. That’s one of the reasons I use a tripod and shoot in manual focus. I use the camera’s back LCD to enlarge the scene 10X and focus in roughly a third of the way into my scene in order to achieve maximum focus on my image. I then take a look at a test shot on the rear screen at the highest zoom level possible in order to see just how in-focus my image is. I’ll make adjustments from there if need be.
That’s why they call it the blues
The best time for outdoor photography is always going to be around sunrise and sunset, but don’t forget Blue Hour, especially in cityscapes where there is warm artiﬁcial light from street lamps and buildings. Blue Hour typically lasts 20 to 40 minutes just before sunrise and right after sunset. The contrast between the rich blue light in the sky and the amber glow of big city lights makes for some very special photography possibilities. I’ve been in many locations where I see other photographers pack up their bags right after sunset and completely miss out on one of the very best times of day to get that perfect shot. Stick around a little longer at sunset or arrive a little earlier before sunrise —and don’t forget your tripod!
You know the cliché: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When your outdoor shoot gets rained out, shoot indoors! Go find some of the city’s standout architecture. Shoot cathedrals, mosques and office buildings (although sometimes you might have to shoot clandestinely). You can get all kinds of epic images from building interiors. Or go shoot in the rain! Clear, blue skies are awful with all that high contrast and those harsh shadows. Gray skies give you soft, even light. Droplets can be beautiful after rain, as are the rainbows. Look at the reflections you get off cobblestone roads or puddles. There are all kinds of great shots rain can give you that you’ll never get on a sunny day.
When you travel, do you only take the exact number of shirts or underwear you need for your number of days out? No, you take one or two extra, right? Because you never know what may happen. Think the same way about your photography equipment, especially when it comes to storage. My files are always, always backed up onto two redundant external drives from G-Technology.
About The Author
Ken Kaminesky is a world-renowned travel photographer and a G-Technology G-TEAM ambassador. Ken has been shooting for more than two decades and has traveled the globe, from Iceland to Jordan, capturing amazing images including ads for top hotels and cruise ships—and his work has been featured on the cover of National Geographic.