How to take better travel photos

KATRINA LOBLEY
Last updated 09:25 17/10/2013
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Richard L'Anson
FACE IT: It's tricky to know whether to ask or just snap away. But sometimes you should pay for the privilege.

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Professional photographers can spend days, weeks, months - sometimes even years - waiting for everything to align for that one perfect shot. But what about the rest of us who just want to return from our holidays with better photos? Katrina Lobley asks leading photographers to share their tips.

BEFORE YOUR TRIP

Learn the technical stuff It sounds basic - boring even - but Lonely Planet photographer Richard I'Anson urges people to learn their camera's manual functions.

That way, he says, they can fully control the picture-taking process. "Get to know your gear so the mechanics of taking a photograph become second-nature," says I'Anson.

"A lot of people struggle with the technical side of it, which is actually learnable. Read up on ISO, shutter speed, aperture and exposure - and how they interrelate. You'll then be able to concentrate on and enjoy the creative side of things."

Mastering technical elements should be viewed as part of the creative process, says I'Anson. Experimenting with shutter speed, for instance, produces an impression of rushing traffic and pedestrians on London's Tower Bridge.

I'Anson regularly leads World Expeditions photographic trips to exotic places (he's taking students to Tibet and Peru next year). Some students on his most recent trip brought expensive gear but struggled with technical elements, he says.

"I got them over the line eventually," he says. "They were in the situation where they could practise and they could keep asking questions."

Plan like a pro Peter Eastway, editor of Better Photography magazine, says travellers planning to make a photobook of their trip should emulate professionals who compile a "shot list" for an assignment.

"If you're going away for 14 days, you want to make sure you've got 14 sets of photos so you can have a couple of pages for each," he says.

"You want to shoot the overview, you want to shoot the hero shot and you want to shoot the details - the little things that other people might not necessarily see."

ON THE ROAD

Travel lightly Melbourne street photographer Jesse Marlow urges people not to lug too much equipment. "Have a camera that's small and compact, and don't carry around a bag with a million lenses - it frees you up when you're out exploring," Marlow says.

"Just carry what you need for the day."

Sydney fine-art photographer Robyn Stacey, also a University of Western Sydney photography lecturer, agrees. "If you're taking photos to upload to your iPad or laptop to show friends, take them on a smartphone or compact camera so you can travel lightly," she says.

"If you really want to take your photography to the next level, travel solo or with a really patient friend or partner. You'll be spending time waiting for the sun to be in the right position, for people to leave a particular spot and things like that."

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Think outside the square Michael Gebicki travels the world capturing his adventures in words and images. He advises travellers to think outside the square - especially when snapping much-photographed icons such as the Taj Mahal.

"Most people just go in the front gate of the Taj Mahal, walk around and take the famous Lady Di shot," Gebicki says.

"But if you walk down the side of the Taj, you can go over the river - then you get the river in the foreground and the Taj behind. That's a whole different ball game. I got a nice shot of a bunch of villagers about to get on the boat and they've got melons on their heads. It's interesting because you're in real India."

Likewise, Marlow avoids obvious routes and busy thoroughfares. "I always try to make my way from A to B through the backstreets," he says.

PEOPLE

Warm up with a festival People can be reluctant to snap an up-close portrait that fills the frame, says I'Anson, who plans many of his travels around festivals.

"People are often a bit hesitant about photographing other people but photographing a festival can help with the trepidation that both the subject and the person with the camera may have."

Festival participants not only wear photogenic costumes - they're expecting to be photographed. "It breaks down barriers," says I'Anson, whose latest book, Lonely Planet's Best Ever Photography Tips, will be released on December 1.

Marlow's advice for approaching people is simple: "It's always important to carry a smile," he says. "It's a good way of breaking the ice."

To ask or not to ask It's a dilemma for those who want to capture interesting faces: do you ask permission to take a photo or just snap away?

"It's tricky," Gebicki says. "Once you've made contact you've destroyed that candid moment - and that may be exactly the point of the photo. If you don't think the person will be offended, I say go ahead and shoot and ask their permission later. But sometimes you're in their face and really want to take a photo - then you should go ahead and ask. I'm more than happy to pay for the privilege - I give people money all the time, especially in the Third World. They're giving you something you want and they deserve to be paid for that."

Be thoughtful "If people ask you to send them a photograph, you shouldn't say yes if you're not going to do it," Eastway says.

"I come back [from a trip] and I often have a list of half a dozen people I have to send photos to." Eastway says he once photographed men in Turkey playing dominoes at an outdoor cafe.

"I didn't speak Turkish but eventually asked (through sign language) if I could take a photo and, because I'd been there five or 10 minutes, they didn't mind," he says.

"I went back three years later and took along a whole lot of photos I'd taken the first time. Handing photos out to them was a real ice-breaker."

Likewise, veteran photographer Ken Duncan broke the ice when he joined a bunch of indigenous kids in the Northern Territory in sliding over rocks into water.

"I just about wore the seat of my pants out," he says of the photo that features in his upcoming book, Life's a Journey. "It was fun and they then feel we've got a bit of a relationship. They were great little kids."

LANDSCAPE

"We all go places when it's overcast and crappy and the light's not so good," Eastway says. "But if you go out at night when it's wet, you get all these wonderful street reflections. In places like Bangkok or Hong Kong, all the water on the road creates a wonderful extra dimension to your photography. With the new cameras we've got, you ramp up the ISO to 3200 or 6400 and you can more or less hand-hold the camera anywhere at night and it looks great."

A hotel shower cap also helps protect cameras in the rain.

WILDLIFE

Become adept at manual focusing if you want to take great wildlife shots, Duncan says. "It's going back to old-school methods."

Duncan has been charged by an elephant and chased by a lion and three rhinos during his career. "Don't get excited when you see (the animal) - try to stay calm and get the shot.

The key to any animal photography is to be patient and, when things do happen, be ready."

A new category of camera called micro four-thirds, which gives the versatility and quality of a DSLR in a compact camera body, also produces great wildlife images.

Sydney fine-arts photographer Leila Jeffreys won the people's choice award in this year's Head On Momento Photobook awards with her cockatoo portraits.

"You want to photograph with what's called a portrait lens - or long lens - that gives you the ability to shoot close-up while being far away from the animal," she says. Perspective is also crucial. "Shoot the way the animal sees the world," she says.

"If it's a small animal on the ground, then lie down on the ground - it makes a massive difference."

THE RISE OF INSTAGRAM

The Gold Coast's Lauren Bath is a professional Instagrammer. Last month, her 282,000 followers were treated to images of Alberta after the Canadian Tourism Commission sent Bath and six fellow Instagrammers through the province.

Her rise has been meteoric: she started on Instagram two years ago using her iPhone but three months later switched to a DSLR for image-taking.

The camera's memory card is fed into her iPad, from where she uploads to Instagram.

Early this year, Bath threw in her job as a chef to focus on photography. What's the secret to her success? Keeping compositions clean and simple, she says, and looking for eye-catching colours, light and reflections.

Apps our experts like include Snapseed and Pictapgo.

Both Bath and Eastway like Snapseed. "It's got a clean, intuitive interface and allows you to transform your photographs with lots of special effects," says Eastway.

"You can make a photo black-and-white, grungy or super-colourful, and you can crop it. It's basically a mini-Photoshop that lets you put your own signature on the way you process the photograph."

Jeffreys is a fan of PicTapGo. "It's like your old-fashioned printer who could give you the quality and produce something quite beautiful for you," she says. "It can work on your contrast and brighten your image - it also has crazy filters that I don't use much."

Fairfax photographer and part-time storm-chaser Nick Moir likes the way Slow Shutter Cam compresses multiple exposures into one to create, for example, the effect of light trails at night.

"It gives a more artistic result," he says.

THREE MORE TIPS AND TRICKS

Maximise colour "Shooting at certain times of the day can really emphasise colour," says Jesse Marlow. "I like to shoot particularly in the morning and afternoon when the sun's lower and the shadows are deeper."

Framing the shot Keep the rule of thirds in mind when composing an image, says polar photographer David McGonigal. "Put your horizon one-third or two-thirds from the bottom and put your main subject one-third in from either side," he says. "Do that and your photos become dynamic and people find them much more interesting. The composition is telling a story."

Keep practising "Hard work is what makes you better," says Leila Jeffreys. "It's not that you've got this natural ability and skill. The best photographers are the ones doing it over and over again - that's how they fine tune their work."

TOP GEAR

Katrina Lobley demystifies the latest cameras to help improve your snaps.

POINT AND SHOOT ZOOMS Canon's Powershot SX50 HS boasts a 50x optical zoom but with a 10.5cm-deep body, it won't suit all. The PowerShot SX510 HS, with a 30x zoom and 8cm-deep body, is a compromise.

THE NEXT LEVEL Want to graduate from a point-and-shoot to a digital SLR? Canon's EOS 100D was touted as the world's smallest and lightest DSLR on release this year. It features in-camera cropping and new modes for snapping kids, food and candlelight. 

UNDERWATER CAMERAS Nikon this month releases what it says is the world's first waterproof and shockproof digital camera with interchangeable lenses. The rugged Nikon 1 AW1 can travel 15 metres under water, fall up to two metres and cope with temps to minus-10 degrees.

ACTION CAMERAS After a surf odyssey through Australia and Indonesia, Californian Nick Woodman wanted to create a hardy wrist camera to capture his ocean antics. Since selling his first GoPro nine years ago, Woodman's become a billionaire - his is now one of the hottest action cameras around.

Thanks to GoPro, YouTube is full of cinema-grade heroics from adrenalin junkies. Sony's jumped in with its Action Cam but the GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition is still on most wish lists.

Do you have any tips or tricks for taking great travel photos? Leave a comment below. To be in to win a Canon PowerShot SX280 camera, check out our Taste of Travel photo competition.

- FFX Aus

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