Tips for Travel Photography at Recent LA Travel Show
A recent presentation at the Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show featured advice and tips for taking pictures while travelling. During “A Guide to Better Travel Photography”, Ralph Velasco spoke on tips and tricks for travel photography last month. Velasco, who was a finalist in the 2015 Travel Photographer of the Year competition, led over 50 international tours within the last eight years. Velasco kept his presentation entertaining by taking interludes from his didactic lecture and slides with pictures of his from different locations, including from Cuba, Lapland (Finland), Cambodia, Romania, and Vietnam. “The fun of photography is being in the right time at the right place,” said Velasco.
Velasco broke his presentation down chronologically, with things to do before the trip, during the trip, and following the trip. As a start, before one goes on the trip, Velasco urges that one creates a shot list – a list of images you want and that gives a sense of what you saw there. He created an iOS app that has 52 categories of images one may want, although “rarely will one image represent just one category”, but they provide a framework. For instance, “what I like to incorporate on all of my trips is food,” despite his not being a foodie, “but I think food is such an important part of travel.” Also, if one only takes just one type of photos, it will make for a pretty boring set of pictures.
Also before the trip, one should get their equipment ready, such as cleaning the sensors, filters, and lenses, as well as clearing off memory cards, so one has a lot of space available for picture-taking. Also important is charging batteries, since, as Velasco pointed out, “I don’t want to get there and waste time charging batteries.” Also important to do is both updating firmware on camera and lenses as well as updating software on devices. If one needs to get new gear, make sure you get it now – not right before the trip. “If you’re looking to get your gear, get it more than just a week before the trip and read the manual on the flight there.” What you don’t want to do is to “get there and be learning the equipment,” since you want to enjoy where you are.
Once one arrives, it is best to arrive early to acclimate and de-jet lag, to get the lay of the land. Also, one wants to confirm and verify one’s plans for the locale. As to the specific equipment, it is important to “set the current date and time on your camera”, since you want to be able to know when you took the pictures after you come back from a trip. Also, importantly, Velasco noted, one should not shoot until the end of the memory cards – it is a good idea to give yourself some cushion in your memory cards, otherwise you could end up running out of space on a card.
During the trip, it is great to work in small teams and to take turns, since they can take pictures of different team members. Always look behind you is an important tip not to bump into people or things. Prioritizing one’s shots is important, working off of one’s shot list, since there could be so many options of which shots one wants to take. “When we go to these places…, it can be a daunting task to ask ‘How are we going to photograph well?'” – it helps to prioritize. “One of the best qualities you can have as a photographer,” said Velasco, is to have patience, while being curious is “the second best quality.” Velasco noted that this is the ABC of photography: “Always Be Curious.”
One thing that Velasco hears all the time is “What should my settings be?” To this question, he said that “it depends” on what you want. “It depends on what you’re trying to do; you’re the creator.” “Be sure your camera’s settings are right for *these* conditions” – whichever specific conditions you would like for the shots you want to take. Also make sure to “go over your camera every time the setting changes”, whether that’s the lighting, etc. He also does not advise against the point and shoot in auto setting – he is not above using that setting. In fact, he says it is okay to “say no to manual mode.” He likes to shoot in A, S/Tv or P – n fact, he shoots in aperture priority 90% of the time. There is also matrix/evaluative metering, and auto ISO – “I love auto ISO.” For file format, he recommends to shoot RAW, since “RAW is a much more forgiving file format”, amongst other reasons.
While shooting, he advises to observe the quality and direction of light. He also recommends to look more deeply into the scene, as there may be people or things in the background of shots which could be included more or excluded. He suggested to get into the rhythm of the place, which helps foster a sense of understanding about the place and people that could help the photographer get authentic pictures. Also, it’s about timing and anticipation, as well.
As to the workflow each night after shooting pictures throughout the day, he recommends to download one’s pictures each night and to backup to computer, as well as exporting to an external hard drive. But just because one has the picture files in these two places doesn’t mean one should write over memory cards – he likes to keep the pictures on the memory cards until he goes on another trip. This way, the pictures are in three separate locations, just in case something happens to one or two of the locations of the files. He says one need not write over the memory cards because, even if one begins to run out of space, then “buy more memory cards if you have to – they’re cheap.” Finally, he recommended to charge batteries and be ready to go the next day.
That having been said, he urged people to put the camera down. “Don’t worry about photographing 24/7 – it can get in the way of your trip.” Furthermore, Velasco urged, “experience the place through your mind’s eye.”
Following the trip, Velasco urged people to back all of the work up again. Moreover, don’t delete anything – unless it’s really just a black shot. Also, reverse engineer your work to figure out which shots you thought worked well and those that didn’t. And even these pictures that aren’t good are great opportunities to learn from your mistakes. Even these mistakes help one to get better – keep working at it and experiencing it. “You can’t get worse at photography.” It is important to keep practicing at this craft to improve.