Travel Writers: Travel Photography: Why and How
by Indranil Sinha
Travel and Photography are intimately related.
Travel photographs are memories for us and can serve as the
media through which we can share our travel experience. They
reflect our feeling, understanding and intimacy towards travel
destinations. They may also serve as historical or political
Photography copyright Indranil Sinha 2001
The Goddess Durga, Calcutta during Durga Puja Festival.
The minimal requirement for travel photography is a camera.
Be it simplest point-and-shoot or 35mm SLR (Single
Lens Reflex), APS (Advanced Photo System) or digital camcorder,
there are some basic considerations common to all types of
Camera selection depends on personal choice and convenience.
Some people like to carry less weight and take snapshots while
others prefer to take sell quality great photos and do not
mind the weight and expenses. Considering 35mm SLR
cameras as the standard photography equipment during travel,
it has several advantages. SLR cameras let you control the
exposure by changing shutter speed and aperture, accept a
wide range of lenses (from ultra-wide to super telephoto),
give what you see-what you get vision through
Do your Homework
Thoroughly reading up on the place you are going to visit
is important if you are a serious traveler. Visit local libraries,
travel bookshops fand use the internet to get well read. Reading
makes you more familiar with the place even when you are not
there. It also helps you to choose subjects to photograph.
Try to coincide some local colorful events (weekly local market,
local fair, festivals etc.) with your time of staying. Considering
lunar cycle can also be helpful in some cases. For example,
photographing the Taj Mahal under the full moon can
be rewarding. Once there at your destination, if you are not
sure what to photograph, take a glance at picture postcards,
talk to locals, hotel staff etc. and ask them if there are
some local events going on.
Photography copyright Indranil Sinha 2001
A man collecting soil from the Ganges, Calcutta, India.
One most important part of travel photography is people. Try
including locals in their traditional dresses in your pictures.
Including people in your photo may also serve as scale. If
you include visitors in the picture of Taj Mahal or
Pyramids in Giza, the viewer will have a known reference
to get a feeling about the height of the main subject.
Including people in the photograph may always not be a pleasant
experience. In some
countries, because of social or religious reasons, people,
mainly women, do not like to be photographed. If you have
confusion, ask before you shoot. If you dont speak the
same language with the locals, a smile and raising your camera
will do the job. If refused, just walk away. There are thousands
of other subjects waiting for you. But if you want to picture
a vegetable market, there's no need to ask permission from
everyone. Hang around with your camera until people start
ignoring you; then shoot. Including people in travel photos
has enormous importance in terms of
liveliness of pictures. If you are shy to ask for
permission, a longer focal length lens (ideally between
200 300mm) will do the job for you. You can be meters
away, shooting somebody without letting him/her know.
If you want to picture a person or two at work of play, be
gentle, polite and patient. Try discussing something about
what they are doing; show your interest in their work. Leave
your camera outside to accustom them with that and finally
ask if they are interested to be photographed. Once you're
done, dont leave immediately, and remember to thank
them. If they ask for a print, note down their address and
mail them a copy. These courtesies will help the next photographer
to get even better photo opportunity. While shooting people,
try to be quick. Dont fumble with the settings of your
camera. Learn your settings well and check your equipment
prior to your trip.
Security of your equipment
Apart from insuring your expensive camera gear, you can take
a few measures in order not to let your stuff stolen.
- Try considering an old bag (be it camera bag or backpack)
to carry your equipment. This will not attract would-be thieves
towards you. Dont take an expensive new bag, which screams
by itself that you are a tourist, carrying expensive camera
- Dont ever leave your camera bag unattended, while
asking for permission from people you want to shoot.
- Always take the camera bag across your body; in that way
it is difficult to snatch away.
Films: What kind of films is to be used?
Print films or Slide films again the
choice is yours. Each has their pros and cons. Print films
are best for showing to family and friends, widely available,
cheap, easily and quickly developable. They are very convenient
for displaying. If you want to work on available, low
light situations (inside a cave, or church or temple etc.)
high speed print films (such as ISO400) are preferable.
Film sensitivity to light varies widely and is represented
as ISO (International Standard Organization) numbers.
ISO 100 is 0.5 times sensitive as with ISO200. ISO400 is twice
more sensitive as with ISO200 and so on. As the light sensitivity
increases, the resolution goes down. But you will only notice
the decreased resolution if you want to enlarge your photo.
However, in 4X6 (inches) print, you will hardly notice any
change in resolution between different ISO number films.
An advanced amateur will prefer using slide films as
will experienced and professionals do. When the light is recorded
in the slide film (i.e. you take a picture), the same brightness/contrast
is achieved after developing the film. In case of print film,
brightness/contrast, color saturation varies between different
photo labs. If you have plans to submit your photos for publication,
slide films are recommended, since most of the publishers
and photo editors accept slide films. Slide films are generally
expensive and may not be available and developed everywhere.
It is not recommended for slide films to use ISO number higher
than 200; otherwise you will notice the grains of the film.
At the airport, when you are waiting for security check,
put your films (both used and unused) in a clear plastic bag
for hand inspection. Some CT scanners may harm the film and
it is wise to ask if the scanner is film Safe.
Since you may not get your preferable film at your destination
make sure to have extra films. Nothing is worse than
missing an excellent photo opportunity by just not having
any more films! This is true for batteries also. Carry spares.
Catching the Right Light
Although early morning and late evening lighting
is preferred and recommended by professional photographers,
it will be unwise not to shoot in between. For that case,
in order to make your pictures as good as possible, you will
need to use a polarizer filter and fill-flash.
A polarizer filter will cut away the glair from reflected
surface, water and result in enhanced blue sky (depending
on the direction of your camera compared to direction of sunlight).
When using a polarizer filter, you have to override the exposure
by 1-1.5 stops.
Fill-flash in daylight is a must while shooting people
or subjects within a range of two to seven meters. Fill-flash
will illuminate the eye of the subject, resulting in more
live picture and will wash away the shadow around the eye
region. This technique will also freeze movements by the subject,
resulting in sharp picture. Do not use flash when you take
landscapes or cityscapes. If you enjoy taking nature photographs,
consider investing on a good tripod. Set your camera on a
tripod, compose your picture, keep the aperture between f/11
to f/16 (not necessarily at f/22), set a slower shutter speed
and use a cable release to press the shutter release button.
If you want to avoid all these, lean against a stable surface,
hand held the camera, take a deep breath and hold, and then
shoot. After a few trials, you will get more sharp and crisp
If you have plenty of time to hang around, use mid day to
choose for photography subjects, good locations etc. Once
you are sure what to photograph, use the very best of the
sunlight in early morning or late evening, when the shadows
are long, light is soft, warm and soothing.
Photography copyright Indranil Sinha 2001
Priest praying to the Goddess Durga, Calcutta, India.
Composition - Vertical or Horizontal
Composing a picture reflects your taste and artistic intellect.
Dont be depressed if you find your pictures not appealing.
There is always next time and scope for learning and improvement.
When you see through the
viewfinder, take a second, ask yourself what is more
suitable to position the camera vertically or horizontally
try in both positions, check which orientation is better
to 1) cover and highlight your subject, 2) leave minimal empty
space, and then shoot.
Try to keep your subject off-centre in the frame for
more appealing picture. This is easy to do with todays
high-tech cameras with focus lock facility. You
can focus your subject, press the shutter release button halfway,
pan the camera little bit and fire.
Keep it Simple. Pictures are most interesting when their contents
are simple and straightforward. Including as many things as
possible in a picture often confuses the viewer, what to look
at exactly. Try to keep a centre of interest in
all your compositions and you will get self-explainable photos.
Finally, take a break while shooting. Look around; try to
feel of being in that place. Do not let the camera viewfinder
be your guide; instead guide your camera viewfinder by your
taste, choice and willingness.