Okay, you love to travel, and while you take a decent pic on your iPhone, you want to take your photography to the next level, the SLR. Although how should you go about it? From doing a year’s full-time course, shooting with slide film, playing in dark rooms, and being published in both the analogue and digital age, I’ve picked up some travel photography tips that may help you (let’s hope).
The old saying a tradesman’s only as good as his tools applies here, but there’s no need to go overboard. A budget SLR from any of the brands that have been at it for some time, such as Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Olympus, Minolta etc will suffice. As long as it’s an SLR (Single Lens Reflex), where you can take off the lens for more creative control, you’ll be fine.
Also, don’t get too caught up in megapixel power, which can be largely gimmicky. Just several years ago magazines required six megapixels and up for quality images, not the gazillion megapixels that sellers are pushing today. Unless you’re a professional doing billboards, your camera should come with enough pixel puff.
One thing I would look for in a camera is a full-frame sensor. Most mid-range and budget SLRs come with a cropped sensor, meaning only about 80% of what you see through the viewfinder will end up in your photograph. Unfortunately, full-frame cameras costs considerably more, and if you’re a little strapped, you’d be better off spending the extra cash on a good lens.
In my opinion, the lens is more important than the camera itself. Try to get one the same brand as your camera if possible, as they tend to sync better. Also aperture is important. A lens with a lower aperture number, say 2.8 or lower, is a faster lens, meaning it’s able to shoot in lower light. It will also give you sharper portraits with blurred, distraction free backgrounds, and better optical quality overall.
Of course this costs more too, and if you’re looking at zooms with a low aperture number (which are more convenient), you’ll pay for it. I have two good lenses, a fixed 24mm 2.8 Nikon and a fixed 85mm 1.8 Nikon. Prime lenses (fixed-focal-length) like this with a lower aperture number are cheaper, but obviously restrictive regarding what you can frame. I like the challenge, as it forces me to get creative.
Get to know your camera
Okay, so you’ve got the gear. Now what? First thing is to get super-dooper familiar with your camera. With my old-school Nikon D50, I know that on manual setting my camera uses spot metering, light metering that focuses on one area. On aperture priority (where the camera sets the exposure by adjusting the shutter speed to the aperture I choose) it uses matrix metering, which is a more even light reading. Read and understand your camera’s manual.
If the ambient light is contrasty, I’ll use spot metering. When the light’s more even, say when it’s overcast, aperture priority should suffice. Then there’s things like white balance, ISO, and accessing both your shutter speed and aperture quickly so you can capture that moment. Again, read your camera’s manual thoroughly. Live it. Know it like you’re a quick draw gun shooter that hits target on a whim. Pow pow!
Composition & Snapping
As technology has made exposure far easier to master these days, the emphasis on photography has moved towards composition. Although I miss playing around in the darkroom, I love being able to concentrate on composition. Focus and frame with care – like you’re cooking a meal to impress the person you love. Take the time to look at detail, all aspects of your frame, and don’t have the horizon in the middle.
This doesn’t necessarily matter, but it’s generally regarded as a photography no-no. Think in rule of thirds, and keep your horizon a third the way up from the bottom, or a third the way down from the top (depending on whether the sky or the ground is more interesting). Also, try placing your subject in the rule of thirds – a third the way up from the bottom (or top) and a third the way across, either on the left or right.
Also, try and shoot mostly during dawn or dusk, when the light is low, as you’ll get better results. I mostly shoot at dusk because I’m too lazy to get up early. If you’re shooting in the middle of the day (which is generally not a good idea), or when the sun is high, have the light at a 90 degree angle, where it’s oblique, or falling across your subject.
Anything else? Shooting in RAW file (again, check manual) will give you greater latitude than say JPEG, although it will take up more memory card space. Shooting in RAW helps immensely when I’m adjusting the levels in Photoshop – something you should also get familiar with. Also, a polarizer can add depth in sunlight, a horseshoe flash (not your pop-up one) can be good for indoor shooting, and a tripod is a must.