A long time ago (January 2011 to be precise), I wrote a blog for pixels2Pages titled Top Ten Tips to Improve Your Travel Photos. At that time I was about to embark on a trip to Africa, which was a fabulous experience and full of once-in-a-lifetime photo ops. I have been fortunate to do quite a bit of travelling since then, and my appetite for travel and travel photography has not diminished. In fact I am writing this post a little ahead of time, as I’m about to embark on a trip to Jordan, Dubai and London. I thought it might be interesting to revisit those tips I wrote so long ago, and see if I have learned anything in the past (almost) 4 years.
The ten tips I wrote about were:
Don’t buy a new camera just before you leave.
WHAT I WROTE THEN: The last thing you want is to miss a great shot because you don’t have the right settings on your camera, or can’t find the right buttons to press. If you need (or want) a new camera, buy it well in advance and take the time to learn how to use it (see point 2).
WHAT I SAY NOW: I’d like to say I follow my own advice here, but I have to confess I bought a new camera this week, just as I am about to leave on another trip. It really is not a great idea – I am frantically trying to learn how to use it and what all the buttons are for. Do as I say, not as I do!!
Know your camera
WHAT I WROTE THEN: You will get much more out of your camera, and be much happier with the final results if you understand the functions of your own camera. Know its strengths & limitations. Understand the different options. You don’t need an expensive high end camera to take great shots. But you do need to know what you can achieve with the equipment you own. In fact the fancier the camera, the worse your photos will be unless you have a good understanding of it. If you can, invest in a course, but at the minimum, read the manual.
WHAT I SAY NOW: These days it is possible to download your camera’s manual as a pdf, and store it on your phone, tablet or e-reader. I encourage you to do that, so that you have the manual on hand at all times. Just type the exact make and model number of the camera into google, followed by the word “manual”. And then read it! Use the down time when travelling (on buses, planes and traines, waiting in line, awake at 3am because of jet lag) to read small sections of the manual and get the most from your camera.
Don’t get caught short
WHAT I WROTE THEN: Have plenty of memory cards, and at least one spare set of batteries. When you are on the road, you won’t always have time to download your photos every day. You do not want to be standing in front of the Taj Mahal and seeing the “Card Full” message. Ideally, you want to travel with a laptop or other photo storage device. But you still need enough cards to last several days, just in case.
WHAT I SAY NOW: This advice applies even more now, as new cameras are sold with increasing numbers of megapixels, creating ever larger image files. Of course memory cards are getting bigger too, (and cheaper) but I would always prefer more, smaller memory cards (I generally use 16GB these days). You can actually buy 512GB memory cards now, but they are so easily lost, damaged or corrupted, and that’s a lot of images to lose at one time!
Back Up, Back Up, Back Up
WHAT I WROTE THEN: Losing photos is always a horrible thing. But losing photos of a one-off trip to somewhere you may never see again is – well, I’ll let you finish that sentence. Backing up when you are at home is vital. Backing up when you are on the road is just as important. There are many options – you can take a laptop or other storage device, or go to a photo shop & get your images copied to CD or DVD. There are also many online backup options available. What ever you use, the key point is – USE IT!
WHAT I SAY NOW: Honestly, I cannot say this often enough or emphasise it too firmly. BACK UP, BACK UP, BACK UP. Have a plan from the outset for how you will back up your images. These days it is pretty easy to find Wi-Fi in most places, which makes cloud storage an excellent option. My back up plan is this: I take enough SD cards to last the duration of the trip, without having to delete any. I take my laptop with me , and copy the images to my laptop, as well as backing the laptop up to an external hard drive (which I carry in a different bag when commuting). And when possible, I also copy the images to my DropBox for safe cloud storage. Obsessive? Perhaps. But it is worth it for peace of mind!
If you have a digital camera, don’t use it like it’s a film camera
WHAT I WROTE THEN: In the days of film, every photo cost money. We would compose each photo carefully, take the one perfect shot, and move on. I see many people using digital cameras the same way. Digital photography has two distinct advantages. Firstly, the photos don’t cost any money to take, so take plenty. Move around, look from different angles, take wide and close shots. You can always delete photos later, but you usually can’t go back & take more. Secondly, you can preview your photos as soon as you take them. Check that you are happy with the exposure, the focus, the composition, the angle, the light. If not, click again.
WHAT I SAY NOW: This advice still stands. Think about your travel photos as a photo essay. A “selfie” in front of the Eiffel Tower is great, but add to that shots of the tower from different angles, close-ups of the structure of the tower, huge nuts and bolts, pictures of the crowds lining up for tickets, the touts selling neon coloured gadgets, buskers & the local gendarmerie – all so much a part of the whole Eiffel Tower experience, and those extra photos will make your albums so much more meaningful.
If you have a digital camera, use it like it is a film camera
WHAT I WROTE THEN: In the days of film, every photo cost money. We would compose each photo carefully, take the one perfect shot, and move on. Just because digital images don’t cost money, doesn’t mean you just keep taking shots for the sake of it. Think about each shot you take, review it, think about what the next shot should be. Taking too many photos for no good reason just means more effort in culling them later. (OK, I’ll confess, I’m not very good at this one myself!)
WHAT I SAY NOW: True confessions. I fail dismally at this, but I refuse to beat myself up about it! I would rather have 20 photos too many than miss that one perfect shot! However, I do recommend labelling or sorting your images daily, while the memories are fresh. If you can travel with a laptop, put your images into Historian and tag them straight away. I’m not suggesting you write detailed notes on each image, but by tagging them in batches, you’ll have a head start on culling them later. Oh, and a bonus tip – make sure the clock on your camera is set correctly, and coordinated with the cameras of all your travel companions. Using Historian’s timeline (whether you upload your images while travelling or later) makes identifying which castle, beach or mountain view is which.
If you have a film camera, get a digital camera
WHAT I WROTE THEN: OK, I know the purists are shaking their heads in horror now! But I do feel that the benefits of digital photography outweigh any disadvantages for all but the most advanced photographer. But I’m guessing if you’re reading this blog, you probably have already been convinced on this issue.
WHAT I SAY NOW: I’m pretty sure the only people still using film cameras for travel photography are rusted on, and are not likely to change their minds. Meanwhile the rest of us are enjoying the new features and flexibility of digital.
Enjoy the experience for its own sake
WHAT I WROTE THEN: Sometimes I get so caught up in taking the perfect photograph, that I forget to look around me, and to focus on the sounds, smells, and general feel of the places I visit. Enjoy the photography, but remember to be in the moment too. Some of my favourite travel memories have more to do with the people I was with and the things we were doing, than the sights we saw. And the photos that accompany those moments, may not be the most artistic ones I took, but they are amongst my absolute favourites.
WHAT I SAY NOW: I enjoy travel photography, and I have decided to stop apologising for that. If I want to see the world through my viewfinder, that’s my choice. You enjoy travel your way, and I enjoy it mine. I actually don’t believe that I ever do “forget to look around me, and to focus on the sounds, smells, and general feel of the places I visit”. As a photographer I think I often see things I would have missed if I wasn’t thinking about the next shot, or how to capture the moment.
WHAT I WROTE THEN: Every photo doesn’t have to be a perfect shot, destined for a photo album or Storybook. Many of my photos are designed to simply be a record of where I have been – I try to photograph every place I stay & every meal I eat (well, the really good – or really bad ones anyway). I take photos of signs everywhere – often they end up as titles in my storybooks, but even if they don’t they are a helpful reference when it comes time to journal. And remember to photograph the good, the bad & the ugly – in years to come, you’ll want to remember it all!
WHAT I SAY NOW: Yes, yes, yes. Take photos of signs, labels, menus, restaurant names, bus stops, advertising posters, newspaper headlines … Anything that helps tell the story, or trigger a memory.
Tell your story
WHAT I WROTE THEN: Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words. But photos without stories become meaningless very quickly. You need to document your travels, and write those stories down. When it is all fresh & new and exciting, you feel sure you will remember every moment with great clarity. But I promise you, a day will come (and it won’t take long) when you will hear someone talking about a particular place and you will ask “Have I been there?”. Of course you know the importance of journalling in your album or storybook, but I’m also recommending storytelling on the run, capturing the memories while they are fresh, and recording your immediate impressions & emotions about the places you visit. You could keep a traditional journal, write a blog, or send home long emails, letters or even postcards. Write your notes in a moleskin diary or a cheap notepad – it doesn’t matter how or where, but you won’t regret doing it.
WHAT I SAY NOW: As our lives get busier and more crowded, and it gets harder to keep all those memories in, I firmly believe this advice holds more than ever!
The best way to tell the story
The trip does not need to end when you get home. Please don’t let those photos languish in your computer, or worse still, on the memory cards. Print them and put them in an album. Pore over them, enjoy them, share them. Make a Digital PhotoBook using Artisan (with lots of help from us at pixels2Pages, of course!). And now, with the advent of the Historian Panstoria Print Shop Album Planner, you can put together a stunning photo book of your trip in no time at all, with simple elegant pages. It is ideal for non-scrapbookers, and indeed anyone (including scrapbookers!) who wants an easy, speedy album where the photos speak for themselves. Perfect for travel albums!
In our first issue of our brand new Pages e-zine, we asked about your travel photos. Only 13% of respondents claimed to be totally up to date with their travel albums. The Panstoria Print Shop Album Planner is the perfect tool to get you caught up and enjoying your travel photos in a printed, bound, coffee table style book, and it should be available with a new update to Historian later this month.
Here are some pages I created using the Historian Album Planner. These photos are from my visit to the Doha Museum of Islamic Art, which we visited yesterday.