Seven Travel Photo Tips That Have Really Helped Me

I have promised this post about my photography methodology since we got home from our Mediterranean cruise. Before I start, I want to thank everyone who has complimented my photography, either here or on Instagram or Facebook. It is so gratifying that people like the thing I love creating. And I truly do love creating photographs.

I had originally thought I would just tell you about my cameras and what I do, but this way will be more fun and maybe help you improve your travel photography by hearing about these things I do when I shoot travel. BTW: These will work for ANY camera; your phone, your point-and-shoot, your DSLR or your mirrorless camera. And I did include the camera and lens stuff down at the bottom.

#7—Get out of the way

Thought I would start with the pet peeve that I learned how to solve long ago—getting out of the way of other people. So often, I see someone walking along in a crowd of people, and they see something they want to take a photo of. They immediately stop, pull out whatever camera (probably their phone) they are using, and they bring it up to their eye and take a photo. Or two. Or three. Or worse is those that stop to take a selfie. Or two. Or sixty—with a different facial expression in every one of them.

But the really important thing they don’t do is GET OUT OF THE WAY! If I see a photo I really want to get, I immediately walk to the nearest wall or pole or real-life obstruction and stop there. I NEVER stop in the middle of the sidewalk, road or wherever else I am walking. (And I don’t change direction immediately. I move diagonally) Why? Because I am not the most important person in the world. I have no business blocking others who may not want to take a photo right then. So get over to the side, get out of their way and take your photo.

#6—Take a few seconds to figure out the best shot available

Now that you have stepped to the side take a few seconds to look at what you first saw that attracted your eye. Take that first shot. Then ask yourself, is there some other way to shoot this that might look better? Try a couple of other shots. Maybe switch sides of the sidewalk or street. Get up higher, get down lower. Most of the time, when you see one of my photos, there are four or five other ones on the same subject that you will never see. I shot them, but I liked the one I posted a whole lot more.

#5—Look behind you

Now you have taken the shot that caught your eye, turn around and look behind you. I know I have mentioned this before on numerous occasions, but a guy named Shawn King, who used to have a Mac podcast I listened to, used to talk about photography, and this was one of his prime directives. Look behind you. I almost always do, and it has paid off with some great shots. I took two photos within two seconds of each other in England. I had taken the obligatory Stonehenge shot, remembered to turn around and got this great cow. I honestly like them both equally.

#4—Shoot a lot of images

When I first started taking photos seriously (not just snapshots), I was in my first year as a yearbook adviser at Coachella Vally High School. The absolute biggest difference between my photography then and my photography now is digital. When I started taking pictures, we were using film (yes, I am that old 😜). If you don’t remember shooting with film, it used to come with a certain number of exposures per roll. That meant the maximum number of photos I could take was either 12, 24 or 36. That was it. Then you had to put in a new roll of film. Film was expensive, as was getting it developed and printed. For 36 color photos, I would probably spend $8.00 for the film itself and then another 30¢ per photo to have them printed and more for enlargements if I wanted them. The total for 36 prints was in the ballpark of $20 with tax, etc. So every photo I took had to be the one I wanted. The second, third and fourth shots were expensive. If I had taken the Med cruise we took in September, I would have probably shot one or maybe two 36 exposure roles of Kodachrome or Ektachrome a day. Our cruise was 21 days so that would have cost me more than $750.

Today on an average trip, I spend exactly $0.00 to take thousands of photos. On our September trip, I took a grand total of 3,203 images. I have shared many of those on this blog, on Instagram, on Facebook and other places, but it still hasn’t cost me a single cent beyond the cost of my original investment in camera and memory cards. (BTW: In case you are wondering why my photo count is so high, it’s because I take triples. That’s three shots pretty much every time I push the shutter.)

So the message here is…take a lot of images. Out of the 3,203 photos I took in September, I was happy with about 600 of them. The rest are long gone. Out of those 600, I only show anyone about 350 of them. But they are the ones I love and want to share. And in many cases, they were the third, fourth or fifth photo I took of the same subject, just from a slightly different angle. So shoot a lot of pictures.

#3—Then organize those photos—with photo triage

If you aren’t familiar with photo triage, it works just like medical triage. I think watching the TV series MASH was the first time I understood how triage worked. A doctor would be in charge of triaging wounded patients as they came into the hospital. Those who were hurt the worst got care; first, those with less life-threatening injuries could wait.

I do the same thing when I return from a day of shooting photos. I download them to my computer and decide which ones are worth saving and which aren’t. I also have a category for those that might be good shots if I work with them in Photoshop for a little bit. I do this in a program called Adobe Bridge (below). Others use Adobe Lightroom. But you could do it just as easily in Apple’s Photos app or the base photo organizer tool for Windows. I look at each photo and hit either my 1 key for losers, my 5 key for winners or my 3 key for fixer-uppers. You can do the same thing in Photos by favoriting the ones you like (they need a numbering system). Then I summarily trash all the 1s. Get them off of your computer. I promise if I had left all of my 3,203 photos on my computer, they would not only have been a pain to manage but also have taken up a substantial amount of hard drive space. Once I have my 5s and have repaired my 3s, then I show Kathleen my 5s (fixed 3s become 5s) and see what she thinks.

After that, I might do a little more work on my final choices. Then I perform two steps that, in all likelihood, you won’t have to do with your photos. Mine are taken in a format called RAW. This format produces what photographers call a digital negative. It gives me a chance to choose a bunch of settings for my photos that your camera or phone chooses for you. Apple has created kind of a RAW format for iPhones, but there is a pretty decent learning curve if you want to use it. Since I use RAW files, I first have to convert them to JPEGs before I can put them online. I have a Photoshop extension that does this in bulk, but it does take a few minutes. Then if I want to put them on Facebook or Instagram, I have to make them smaller, so I have another Photoshop action that I run to shrink them for online use. I always keep my original files in RAW, so I still have them if I want to print them or use them in a large format.

#2—Learn how to hold your camera and hold it still

About 90% of the people I see using an iPhone hold it like this to take a photo. This is the wrong way. I can fix a lot of things in Photoshop, but no one can fix camera jiggle. So much of that has to do with how you hold your camera or your phone. My current iPhone, it has an excellent camera, and I thought I might start using it more. So I signed up for a course (online) on shooting with my iPhone. Sadly, I didn’t learn a lot because most of the course was just basic photo techniques that I already knew. But one thing that I learned in the very first lesson was how to hold the phone in the best way to avoid jiggle and get a clear photo every time.

How should you hold a phone? Like this.

Three fingers of your non-dominant hand going up or across the back. The phone is supported by your little finger and thumb of that hand. Then put your dominant hand underneath your other hand and take the photo using your thumb. This gives you an amazing amount of control, and it is a lot less likely to not only jiggle, but you are a lot less likely to drop it if jostled in a crowd. Give it a try. I do need to say that it took me a while to do this every time, but I do it every time now. Make it a habit. BTW: If you need a better explanation, just Google “the right way to hold an iPhone when taking a picture.”

#1—If you can shoot Manual and/or get a real camera

This tip only partially applies to those of you using your phone as your predominant camera. But if you have a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) or a mirrorless camera, stop shooting in Program or Auto and shoot in Manual. And if you are using your phone, consider buying a real camera. (That will take you to the next level). When you take a photo in Program, Auto or with your phone, your camera thinks you want a photo of your subject in midday, full light. Let me illustrate. On the left is a photo I took in Program. On the right is one I took in Manual.

See a huge difference? The one I shot in Manual is what I saw with my eye. The one I shot in Program is what the camera thought I wanted to take. I never want to take that photo. The mood of the one on the right is what I want every time. It completely captures what I wanted it to.

My equipment

I have had people ask in the comments what kind of camera I use. I am happy to say, but I hope that you realize this has little to do with my photography. Saying that it does is like asking Jimi Hendrix what kind of guitar he played. He could have played any guitar and been as awesome as he was. That said, I am currently shooting an almost brand new (I got it in September) Nikon Z7II. It is a mirrorless camera that I picked up in July. Mirrorless is the current state of the art in cameras. I could get really technical as to why it is superior to my old Nikon D810 DSLR, but the biggest advantage for me is that I can now hand-hold my camera at 1/20th of a second. To me, that is amazing. When I started shooting, the best I could do was around 1/60th of a second; otherwise, I got way too much jiggle. But without a mirror snapping up, I can hand-hold a lot slower shutter speeds. This new camera is also much better for action because it can take a lot of photos faster.

The predominant lens I shoot when traveling (or pretty much all the time) is a Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G ED VR lens. David Pogue, the NY Times tech guy, called this the “Magic Lens” because you only need this one lens to shoot all the time. I do have to give up a little light that I could get back by shooting a faster lens but they just don’t make them. This lens is also pretty darned-heavy. With my camera attached, it weighs about 5lbs. I do own other lenses, but I rarely use them.

The other piece of equipment I never travel without is my Black Rapid camera strap. I can’t stand things (especially things that weigh 5lbs) hanging off my neck. This one is cross-body, and they last forever. My current strap is the only one I have ever owned, and I have been using it for more than 15 years. Not only does it distribute the weight well, but it has a zipper compartment for extra cards and a pocket for an extra battery—which is a must!

As you have already read, I also take my Mac on just about every trip we take. This helps me feel better about not losing any photos. I am a fanatic about backing up my photos. My Nikon has two slots for memory cards. I shoot to both of them. This means that when I take a photo, it is saved to both cards at the same time. When I get back to the room or the ship stateroom, I download the pics from the primary card. Then I get out my 2TB backup drive and back up my Mac. Every time I shoot I always have at least two (and usually three) copies of every photo until I have done my triage and backed up those. Then I can get rid of the rest. And I forgot to mention that the folder where I keep my photos that I download is in my Dropbox folder so it is also being uploaded whenever I have WiFi. That puts all my photos online as well.

I fully realize this is more than everyone wanted to know but if it helps you improve your travel photos, it will have been worth it. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments.

Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.   —Aaron Siskind