Travel has been part of my life almost since birth. The very first year of my life was spent abroad, in the Ivory Coast in Africa, and since then, I have found foreign countries and cultures fascinating. Even on my visits to volcanoes or trips with a focus on landscape photography, I always take a few days to immerse myself in the local culture and to get to know the country and people. Japan blows my mind and as part of my Volcanic Seven Summits project, I came to appreciate the cultures of Iran and Papua New Guinea.
As I have previously given you some advice on photographic storytelling and landscape photography here, this time I would like to share some of my travel photography tips with you.
When it comes to travel photography, my number one tip concerns the equipment. The worst kind of camera is one that you won’t want to reach for. What use is the best technology if the camera just doesn’t suit you? I would therefore recommend taking plenty of time to select your equipment. If possible, try out a few different alternatives. Make the decision based on your gut feeling, the feel, the handling, and the feel-good factor – not only on technical data sheets.
For me, it’s important to work with a small, rather inconspicuous camera, especially when it comes to travel photography. A camera like this is easier to carry, so you can always have it to hand and it also stops you look-ing like a photographer ‘on the hunt’.
Personally, even though I usually use the OM-D E-M1 Mark II when I’m on the move, I have also had positive experiences with the OM-D E-M5 Mark II.
When it comes to action, adventure, and also travel photography, you need to remember that being in the middle of the action is better than just being there. Renowned war reporter Robert Capa once said: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re probably not close enough.” This is why I’m not a huge fan of (travel) zoom lenses, as these often encourage us to stay in our comfort zone. It is much better to get as close as possible to the object you are trying to photograph. During a festival in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, I got right down to floor level with my camera until I was right in there with the dancing feet. Thanks to the movable screen, I was still able to photograph the scene comfortably.
Portraits / People
It’s the people, encounters, and foreign cultures that make travel come alive. It goes without saying that you need to treat the people you wish to photograph with respect and courtesy. It is vital – and not just because of GDPR – that you get the appropriate consent to take a photo, even if this agreement is reached through basic sign language. For this reason, I try to find out in advance what people in the country in question gen-erally think about being photographed. I also learn a few key words in the relevant local language. Alongside regular portraits – like the one of a Huli wigman in Papua – I really like to capture people in their typical sur-roundings and pose.
Objects / The Typical and the Atypical
I particularly like to look out for subjects showing scenes both within and beyond the prevailing clichés we are familiar with, images that show the full spectrum travel destination. To do this, I read through a few travel guides beforehand and ask around for common clichés so that I can then seek out suitable subjects in a tar-geted manner during my travels. The photo of the Papua New Guinea native on his mobile phone shows the evolution of this fascinating culture from tradition toward modernity in a single image.
A Picture Paints a Thousand Words
I am always on the lookout for subjects which tell a story without words or a description. Over time and with a lot of practice, I have developed an instinct and an eye for discovering and photographing these types of endearing pictures and details. To do this, you need to photograph different subjects.
The Early Bird and the Night Owl
This tip often causes me problems. I am very much a night owl so, on my travels, I always have to force myself to get up in what feels like the middle of the night to capture the glorious first light of morning. In addition to the light, there are other advantages to being up in the early hours. Lots of places – such as the otherwise overcrowded Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine in Kyoto, Japan – are usually still (nearly) deserted in the early morn-ing and not so overcrowded. I find it much easier to take photographs in the warm evening light or late at night, as shown by the image of the palace reflected in a large fountain pool in Isfahan, Iran; this brings the same advantages.
Creativity / Focus / Blur
Before a trip, it is essential to familiarize yourself with your camera and the basic rules of photography and then master these tools perfectly. This forms the basis for creating your own interpretation of frequently photographed subjects or creative images. Playing with focus and blur can be an interesting stylistic device.
With the right equipment, a good grasp of the photographic tools, intensive preparation, and the right amount of respect, creativity, and curiosity, you will also succeed in capturing unique and exciting travel im-ages.
Author & Photographer: Adrian Rohnfelder