Seven unusual tips for better travel images (Part one)
The possibility to travel around much of the world is slowly coming back, and it’s time to look at how we can get more out of travel photography. Sure, there’s no shortage of tips on the internet, but, unless you’re just starting out, many of the most common tips will seem pretty banal to most of you.
I’m sure you’ve heard things like wake up early, know your camera, research your location, or bring a tripod. But I don’t think you need to hear any of those again! So, here are seven (well, four this week!) unusual photography tips that will help you grow as a travel photographer.
Allow yourself to be naive
This tip applies to people photography in particular. Do you sometimes overthink whether you should approach a person for a photo? I do.
“Will they get uncomfortable and reject me? Will they ask for money? Maybe they’ll get angry.” All these questions naturally pop up in our minds before approaching a person for a photo.
The fact is, things rarely work out exactly how we imagine. Our own thoughts can overwhelm us. Overthinking usually leads us to not take any action.
I’ve dealt with this by regularly getting myself into an a naive, almost childlike state of mind. My default thought process is that if I’ll project a positive, curious attitude and happy emotions - everything is going to be fine. The people in front of the camera will be glad to be in my photo. Over the years, I’ve found this to be far more productive than being the “overthinking adult”.
So much of my work was made precisely because I approached people with naivety. It’s surprising how much access one can get just by being naive and open. I’ve visited countless ceremonies, photographed people at work, I even ended up in people’s kitchens making intimate photos. All because of my approach.
It does become harder to get into the naive state of mind when you have some negative experience along the way. But, the alternatives usually lead to no photos. So, when I’m photographing people, I make a conscious effort to empty my mind of prejudices and fill it with naive, positive thoughts instead. Sure, sometimes things won’t work out. But, if you’re respectful and conscientious - you’ll never run into too much drama. At the end of the day, taking on this approach will always at least give you a chance to create something special.
The main "event" is often not the main thing photographically
The main event can be a festival, a procession, a sports match, even a market day. Before I go on, I want to make it clear. At times the main event is simply amazing, and it’s absolutely worth photographing it above anything else and you should focus all your energy on it.
However, very often, I’ve found that what’s around the main event is far more interesting photographically. Not to mention that there are less restrictions and you frequently get much better access to photograph your subjects.
One very appropriate example that stands out to me is my experience with traditional Indian wrestlers. The main event for them was the day of the bouts. There were rows and rows of spectators around a sandpit, where several bouts were happening at the same time.
The event was an amazing to experience, but photographically, it was chaotic and limiting. Even though I was allowed to get into the wrestling pit, it was hard to get the angles I wanted. There were other photographers, wrestlers being thrown around and unruly spectators.
In contrast to this main event, there were training sessions at wrestling schools. During these, only a few people would enter the pit at once. I could get up close. I could talk and establish rapport with the wrestlers. I could make their portraits.
As an amazing bonus, during the afternoon sessions, beams of light would form as light from a window would hit all the dust in the air that was kicked up by the wrestlers. I could create some pretty magical images, which photographically speaking were far more impactful than anything I could shoot at the main event.
There won't be a next time
This is one of the most important tips for a photographer on the move. I’m sure I’m not the only one who often catches myself saying “That’s a great scene, but I’m just too tired, or, I’m in a rush. I’ll shoot something like this next time.” Here’s the reality though. Usually there won’t be a next time.
Being a professional travel photographer, I’m pretty spoilt by the amount of photo opportunities that I get. If I’m being honest with myself though, I’ve probably missed out on more photos than I’ve made, because I passed up on them for that “next time.”
Here’s a little story. I saw this roadside fish seller along a road in Armenia while driving. He was standing next to his beaten up Lada. The sun was setting, the colours were vibrant, he seemed like a real character with that silver shirt and sunglasses.
This was one of those times when I did take advantage of the opportunity right there and then. But, it so happened that I passed the same place again a couple of times over a span of a few weeks. I’m sure you can guess what happened. The opportunity was no longer there. One time there was no one on the spot. Another time, it was cloudy, cold, the same man was wearing a drab coat and didn’t seem to have that sparkle, that attitude that oozes from this photo.
We’re all guilty of saying “next time”. The only way to avoid missing out on countless photo opportunities is to get yourself into the right mindset. You need to say to yourself “I will make an effort. I will make a photo. I’m not going to wait until the next time.”
Even if you won’t end up with an amazing photo on every attempt, you’ll walk away with a pleasant memory, or sometimes, even a valuable life lesson.
When the weather is bad - Run for the camera
Usually when we think travel photography, we don’t imagine dark, cloudy skies, grey, wet scenes, or sudden snowfall along the road you’re traveling. Nor do we really picture thick fog that envelops the entire landscape.
When we think about rain and wet weather, we generally don’t think about photography. We want our gear safe and dry. But, conditions like these create some great visual drama. Especially if you’re somehow including hints of the weather into your photos.
Part of the reason we don’t shoot in bad weather as often is because there are technical limitations. Most cameras are not waterproof, and many are not as weather resistant as the manufacturers claim.
But, regardless of the limitations, it’s worth finding ways and making a point to shoot as much as you can in these situations. Even a cheap plastic camera case will protect your camera in most cases. You can obviously shoot from under a cover in the rain, or from behind a window.
Whatever solution you find, it’s worth taking advantage of “bad weather” rather than avoiding it. Such photos will show a side of travel and life, which isn’t represented anywhere nearly as often as scenes shot during beautiful sunrises and sunsets. They won’t feel idealised. Yet, they can be quite evocative and even poetic.
Look out for part two next week.
About the author: Award-winning photographer Mitchell Kaneshkevich is a travel photographer, YouTuber, writer of ebooks and creator of educational photography courses. See more at mitchellk-photos.com.