In each installment of the Uproxx Travel Guide, we ask some of our favorite professional travelers to answer one travel question — then share their best advice with you. From informational, to inspirational, to entertaining, our aim is to incite your wanderlust and provide bite-size takeaways you can put to use on your own adventures.
This Week’s Question: What photography tips do you have for other travelers?
Also: What’s the relationship like between you and your camera? For example, do you wait to feel acclimated or jump right in to shooting? Does it ever get in the way of experiencing a place in the moment? How do you feel about taking photos of locals?
A: Taking great photographs is a lot about slowing down and looking at things from different angles. It’s really easy to get stuck in the overhead food porn rut. I always like to think about shifting perspective and finding the right — ideally natural — light.
I do have to be honest that taking photographs of people has become more difficult since the overwhelming popularity of digital SLRs. When I was shooting film or working with the first generation of DSLRs years ago, folks in developing countries were really excited to have their photographs taken; they’d never seen a Viking like myself, let alone a big camera with a cool lens. But now everyone is running around with Mark 3s, it seems, so I think it’s even more important to establish a rapport with your subject.
I think “may I take a photograph of you?” should be just as important of a phrase as “where’s the bathroom?” if you intend on taking quality shots.
Don Wildman hosts Travel Channel’s long-running Mysteries at the Museum. For decades, he’s traveled the world on television, but he feels like he’s still barely scratched the surface of all the places he longs to see.
A: I used to be a much better, more passionate photographer than I am now. I feel like everybody’s a photographer now. The only thing that separates my practice from the rest is a Luddite desire to make real prints and do Moleskine scrapbooks as a gift to my fellow travelers. One copy, seeya.
For me, very much less has become very much more in this media-saturated world.
Kate McCulley quit her job to travel the world in 2011. Five years and 63 countries later, she’s still going strong. She’s survived a shipwreck, feasted on zebra, and danced all night with Vikings. Her site, AdventurousKate.com, is a resource showing women how to travel the world on their own terms.
A: The single best thing you can do to take better photos is to learn the basics of composition and light. Learn about the rule of thirds and how to compose a proper photo. Learn about the best times for light and where to aim your camera. Improving in these two areas will do far more for your photos than upgrading to an expensive camera ever could!
A: I hesitate to bring my camera out of my bag and miss out on a lot of great shots because of it. I’m a writer, not a photographer, and being behind the camera has always felt less immersive for me. It makes me feel like I’m taking pictures — taking something without giving anything back. It’s a remove that I don’t necessarily like. It’s more fun for me to go rope swinging with local kids than to stay dry while they rope swing.
As a result of this philosophy, I’ll probably never be Insta famous. But I also get to experience the joy of spontaneously swimming down a river without fear that my camera will get stolen, wet, damaged, etc. There’s plenty of hypocrisy in this philosophy of mine, though. Last month, I was in Colombia and I had a chance to visit an Indigenous village. I didn’t take any photos, but I was eager to get copies of the photos that my travel companions took.
I think it’s something we as travelers all have to sort out for ourselves. I don’t disrespect anyone else’s photo-travel ethos, I’m just sorta partial to mine.
Kiersten Rich is the author of award-winning solo female travel & lifestyle blog, The Blonde Abroad, which features travel tips, fashion, festivals and photography from around the world. You can follow her on Instagram at @theblondeabroad and on Facebook.
A: I actually just did a guest article on the GoPro Blog on how to take epic photos as a solo female traveler. I carry a GoPro and my FujiFilm X-T10 with me all the time. My Fuji is a smaller sized professional camera, so I can be more discreet about the equipment I have on me, while still being able to capture amazing photos. The GoPro is essential for all travelers. You can basically capture any moment of your trip, whether it’s cliff jumping, SCUBA diving, or skydiving.
A: I shoot a lot of video in addition to photos, so I look for pieces of moving imagery that will fit into an overall story that I’ve planned out prior to arriving in a destination. My motto with filming is to shoot it when you see it. Even if it slows down your group or pushes back your entire schedule, when you see the perfect shot, chances are it will not be there later. The light will be different, the scene will have changed. Always have the camera out.
I also love shooting in 60 frames per second as much as possible. When you slow it down in post-production, it gives an ethereal effect to your footage. It’s a style I really like for my travel films.
I use the Canon 5D III, but always have my iPhone to take the best time lapses and my GoPro for adventure shoots.
Marko & Alex Ayling
A (Alex): I always have my camera at the ready, on a sling around my shoulder. You really don’t know when the perfect picture presents itself so be ready to capture it. Also, I think subject is important, I’m always thinking about what I want the viewer to see and try to frame my photos to focus on the subject, whether it’s a portrait or a landscape. Shoot with a subject in mind.
Trevor Morrow is a travel writer whose worked has appeared on Outside Online, Details, Men’s Journal, Inside Hook and more (he’s also the author of this article). You can follow him on his lifestyle travel blog, Trevor Morrow Travel, on Instagram at @trevormorrow and on Snapchat, username: thetrevormorrow.
A: I actually just wrote an article on my blog called How To Take Better Travel Photos For Instagram, in which I share my tips for taking better photos while traveling. In that article, I talk about looking for interesting lines within your photos, capturing moments in time that tell a larger story and approaching your subject from different angles (from up close, from far away, from above or from below) in order to frame it and portray it in a new, creative way.
As far as cameras go, I almost exclusively shoot with my iPhone. It’s so unobtrusive and I can take it out of my pocket and take a photo in a matter of seconds — no dealing with settings, lens caps or taking a clunky DSLR out of my bag. Shooting with an iPhone also helps me blend in and look more like a local — because I don’t have a larger camera strung over my shoulder.
I feel like taking photos can occasionally get in the way of experiencing a place in the moment, but I’m usually good at balancing looking at life through my eyes and looking at it through the lens. And at the end of the day, taking photos when I travel is part of my job, and I love sharing the images I capture, along with tips and stories to enhance them, in an effort to inspire and inform other travelers.
When it comes to taking photos of people, use your best judgement, imagine how you would like to be photographed, and ask yourself “am I intruding on their privacy?” You should almost always ask if you can take someone’s photo, especially if you’re in close proximity and if the person is either alone or part of a small group. Remember, they are locals, not tourist attractions.
Of course, there are also “slice of life” moments that capture daily life or an event where you won’t need to interrupt the moment. You should know the difference when you see it.
What’s your photo philosophy? Share in the comments! Have a traveler you’d like to recommend we talk to for this series? Email us (email@example.com)!