At the end of 2014 I had the life changing opportunity of leaving my job in exchange of a salary package which I decided to use for a trip around the world. Ever since I traveled in India with a photography tour I became more and more passionate about photography. By now, I already photographed on all 7 continents, during rains, snows, very cold or very hot weather, in dusty environments, I carried my camera when trekking to shoot amazing landscapes, even on top of mountains for breathtaking astrophotography, I captured portraits and moments otherwise gone.
Traveling solo around the world I discovered the passion for photography and travel and as I saw how they go perfectly hand in hand I decided to start over from scratch and build a life around my main passions. I dream about building a community of creative people passionate about travel photography and story-telling through photos.
“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” Ansel Adams
So here are the photography tips I learned while traveling solo for last two years:
1. Learn how to use your equipment before starting your trip: you don’t want to get in front of an amazing landscape and just try to figure how your camera works and how to make your settings. Some people buy all sort of new equipment and accessories before traveling just to be sure they have everything they need, but most of the time is unnecessary. If you feel like buying a new camera for a trip, get familiarised with it before boarding your plane. In any case, always have a copy of your camera manual saved on your phone.
2. Don’t take too much equipment in your travels: I think about photography equipment in terms of a triangle of the compromise between the way you want to travel, the type of photography you want to make and how much you can physically carry with you. Of course, during my last years I experimented a lot, inclusively going to the limit of what I could carry, having two cameras, 4 lenses, one tripod, and so on. And ultimately, I decided to travel light with one full frame camera and one lens with a polarising filter, 5 memory cards, one extra battery and one shutter release cable.
3. Always take more shots for the same subject and never delete many of the shots during the next days: many times we shoot a subject once and when we see later the photo we can figure a better perspective or composition, but it’s too late, the moment is already gone. Also, we can take many photos but then delete most of them after because we think they are bad. That’s a mistake, a photo may appear bad to you today, but if you look at it after few weeks you may have a different opinion.
4. Wake up early, be it a place that gets overcrowded at day, be it a place in nature with beautiful sunrises, the morning hours offer you some of the best opportunities for great photos: this worked perfectly for me when I woke up super early one morning in Bangkok to photograph the Buddhist monks on their morning alms walk and one of the photos from that morning was chosen for an exhibition. The best natural light for photos is during the early mornings and evenings.
5. Make backups of your photos, at least in one place and at least once per week if it’s not possible more often: this is simple, you don’t want to lose your photos. I carry a hard drive with me in my travels and whenever I have the chance of good wifi I upload my work on my cloud account.
6. Keep your equipment clean, dry, protected: one of the advantages of using one lens is that you won’t get dust on your sensor while changing lenses. Consider buying a dry bag for very wet environment and always clean your lenses. Although you can later edit the dust spots why spending time doing that instead of forming the habit of keeping them clean?
7. When taking photos of people don’t be shy but be respectful: I missed so many opportunities of beautiful portraits just because I was too shy to ask. This was a skill I learned on the road, because I really wanted to capture stories with people, with their cultures and smiles. There are places where people are really happy to be photographed and places where they are offended, you have to be aware of their culture, their reactions and respect them if they refuse you.
8. When the sky is clear you better stay up late: one of my favorite things to do is night photography. Clear skies are not everywhere, so when you are lucky enough to experience starry nights with clear skies in nature you should capture them, don’t let those chances go.
9. Always have your camera at hand: you might have a heavy camera and not be very inspired some days, but worse then that is not to have the camera at hand when you need it.
10. If your camera is heavy use your backpack straps to keep it tight to your chest: this was so helpful for me as my camera is really heavy and my neck and back were in pain so many times. The backpacks have those chest straps and although inspiration to do that came late it was such an amazing change, as it’s making the access to the camera much easier and much more comfortable.
11. Try different perspectives – turn your back at the most photographed subject: this one is tricky. But remember, fortune favours the brave. Of course you want to photograph the subjects you saw on postcards or on internet, the landmarks and from the most famous angles, but is so rewarding to find a different perspective and create an unique photograph.
12. Be a storyteller through your photos: the most beautiful part of travel photography is the ability to tell a story of the place, of the community, situation or person, to capture a momentary reality from the life of one person. Away from the photographic cliché of mass tourism which I dislike very much, a good photographer can serve as example and recommendation of responsible travel, where you learn about cultures, customs, traditions, but also the reality of war, conflict, and poverty. Also, make photos people will want to see many times, not just once, and without a story to make them dream is hard.
13. Show realities not noted otherwise: don’t look where everybody looks, go away from the crowd, walk the streets and capture subjects you haven’t seen on other photos or media. Behind the nice church might be an opportunity to tell a story which will show more accurately how is the life of that town or city.
14. When people sit on your way try to use this to your advantage: due to mass tourism there are some places where is impossible not to capture people in your photos, especially when you don’t visit early. Try to use this in your advantage searching for unusual perspectives.
15. Don’t rush – there are places where you won’t come back again, if you are inspired and have ideas don’t waste the opportunity: if you rush to make a photograph because you know you don’t have time there aren’t many chances to make a very good one. Sometimes photographers are lucky, but most of the time you have to imagine the composition and wait for the right moment to press the shutter, you have to try different angles and perspectives, or different settings. If photography is your number one priority and you travel mainly for it then you can plan to go to a certain spot, and you can plan the best times to shoot.
16. When trekking or climbing mountains don’t leave your camera behind. Actually, never leave your camera behind: the camera is heavy, the backpack is heavy, but the effort is worthy when you can photograph the starry night sky, or the sunrise over the lake near your tent.
17. Take candid shots: sometimes when people see your camera they will pose and it might ruin the story. While for portraits best is when people look at you, there are situations when the candid shot is the best and it adds life to your photography.
The world is full of stories waiting to be photographed, just take your gear and go out! I hope this comes as an inspiration for you!