Photography for Beginners
A Guide by Luke Plastow
Let’s dispel a myth right away - you don’t need to be a professional to take travel photos. You just need to know the basics of your camera and follow a few rules. Some of the best photos you'll take will be from being in the right place at the right time, and that happens often when you're travelling.
I have broken this short guide in five sections to give you some fast tips on travel photography. Happy snapping!
There is no standard equipment for taking photos but when travelling you best make sure you have the necessities with you. Most people will be taking a point and shoot or a DSLR due to space constraints. For both cameras the following is recommended:
- Make sure you have a big enough memory card for the camera - Rather than buy one huge memory card, I would recommend buying three or four smaller ones and keep them separate from the camera. That way if you lose your camera you don’t lose all of the photos.
- Bring a charger - Nothing is worse than being in a foreign country and the battery on your camera dying, and spending all afternoon trying to find a place that might sell your charger.
- A padded bag - There is a strong chance you will be knocked around on trains and buses. Make sure you get a bag padded enough to take these blows. Nothing is worse than opening up your bag to find it in pieces after being kicked on a bus.
- A small tripod - Most cannot take a bit 6ft tripod. But there are some really nifty 1-2 ft fold down ones that fit in a handbag. They aren’t very big but if you want to do self photographs, scenery or night time shots they are a god send.
Using the Camera
Before you go look at your itinerary and see what landmarks there are. But more importantly look at what else there is. Remember that the locals know the best places. If they talk about a park or a museum then it might be worth a look. Most countries know what a camera is and most countries are used to tourists. If you are in a place whereby there is a lot of action then keep your camera to hand. But not obviously. Do not walk around with it hanging round your neck all the time. I tend to have a hoodie on that it tucks into or if it is warm it sits at the top of the backpack.
Don’t just look. Observe. With your camera to hand and an eye for a picture you can often get very spontaneous photographs. If you are in a place where there aren’t a lot of tourists and you wish to photograph the locals the best way to approach it is to not have your camera out. Put it away, go up to the locals and talk to them. Mention you are taking photos and get it out. Show the camera to them and to an extent let them have a go. Once they are comfortable with it then ask if you can take some photographs. The trick with kids is to take one photo and show it to them. Often enough they then laugh and play up to the camera creating a better photo.
Remember you are just a tourist taking photos. You are not doing anything wrong. So don’t act like it. Be friendly, and talk to people. Don’t just walk up take a photo and run away.
When thinking about settings the best thing you can do is learn about what you have got. If it is a point and shoot then learn what each setting does. Most have settings for indoors, low light and outdoors. Make sure you know when to use these settings. There are no perfect settings to take a photo but there can be wrong settings. So learn what each of them does. If you have a DSLR your horizons are massively widened but so are the settings. If you camera has a manual setting then learn to use it. Start by grasping a basic knowledge of Shutter speed, Aperture and ISO. There are plenty of YouTube tutorials showing you how to use these. All have an effect on the light and texture of a photo. The best tips to have are to leave it on auto if you are unsure. But when you get to grips with how to use light in the manual setting the world is your oyster.
If you are comfortable with the manual setting them here are a few tips
- For people have a high shutter speed as they move and become blurry otherwise.
- For scenery you can have a slow shutter speed. A slow shutter speed often makes things like a sunset look more glowing.
- If you have a tripod, use it. Especially at night. Slow shutter speeds at night need a tripod otherwise they come out blurred and/or ruined. Unless you are an abstract artist that is.
- Place the subject off centre. A simple photo of a girl leaning against a wall is much more interesting and aesthetically pleasing if she is off centre. It’s not rocket science but placing the subject off centre and following a rule of thirds can turn the most boring photos into something worth looking at.
- Depth of field is an important setting. This is controlled by the aperture. A small number means a short depth of field and a large number means a bigger one. The rule of thumb is that for people use a small number. This focuses more on the person and not the background. For buildings and landscapes use a large number as this gives you the longer depth so more of the subject is in focus.
What to Look For
If going to a place where there are lots of tourists try to give another angle on things. For instance rather than just standing by the Eiffel tower, go to one of the side streets covered in graffiti and shoot it from there. Give the viewer something different. Once you find your subject, find your angle. How do you want your image to end up?
Side streets and off the beaten path is where I shoot my best stuff. Go to the places you wouldn’t have considered before. You can do this by staying safe. Don’t just rock up into a ghetto with your camera out.
While people are shooting the landmark, shoot the people. Sometimes the most interesting thing about a landmark is the people there to see it. You could take a photo of the leaning tower of Pisa. Or you could take a photo of the girl on her dads shoulders pretending to push it over not realizing her ice cream is about to fall on his head.
Most importantly, capture what you are doing. If you are having fun at a bar with some news friends get the camera out. Don’t worry about being all artsy with it, capture the moment. If someone tells a joke take a photo of everyone laughing. You will look back on that photo and remember the joke.
When taking photographs of scenery take one or two. Get the setting right and move on. There is no point taking 10-15 photos of the same object. Try to make use of the golden hour. The golden hour is the hour before sunset where everything looks magical. People walking along a beach look like they are from Baywatch. The sun setting over tall buildings makes them look like mountains. Use it. Your surroundings may be boring during the day but during the golden hour they have a whole new perspective.
Look up! Don’t keep your camera street level. Look up to the sky and the scenery up there. The quagmire of coloured roofs in Amsterdam or the spiral buildings of Moscow.
Look down! Get on your hands and knees, take photos of things a foot off the ground. A flower sprouting in the middle of a Berlin pathway. A hedgehog sleeping in a bush by The Louvre.
All these things are around you but you do not see them as most peoples cameras are glued to their face in a region between 5-6ft high.
About the Author - Luke Plastow
I take my camera wherever I go. I often cover music and sport but travel photography is where I really enjoy myself. I've been to over 40 countries on 4 contients. I prefer to get onto the streets and hills than stay in a resort. Whilst travelling I have been robbed, hugged a tiger, been stamped on by a bull, been inside a pyramid, climbed a mountain, had my belongings stolen by an elephant, nearly fallen off a cliff and finally lost my passport on a train. The place I would reccomend the most due to it's natural beauty and lack of tourists is Bosnia, and more specifically Sarajevo. Absolutely stunning...
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