I consider myself a bit of a “shutter bug” but I continue to learn valuable casual photography lessons as an amateur travel photographer:
- Know Your Equipment – There is nothing worse than thinking you have the perfect shot that can be enlarged for a poster only to find out that the setting was so small that you can barely distinguish your subject in a view greater than a thumbnail. Hint: Read the manual before you set out to capture a fleeting moment. Consider making a small laminated reference card if you really want to remember settings (you can punch a hole in the corner and attach it to your backpack or other bag with a small inexpensive carabiner).
- Know Your Audience – If you know in advance how you will be sharing your photos or videos, you can be more efficient with your time. This can also be important when you choose your settings. For example, if you are going to incorporate into a high definition widescreen video, you may want a different setting than if you are later going to enlarge prints.
- Know Your Environment – It might be valuable to consider aspects of the location to determine the right equipment to carry. For example, if you’re climbing a mountain, you may want something compact and lightweight. If you will be moving quickly, leave the tripod at home. Going underwater? Be sure your camera has a waterproof housing and know its depth limits. If you are a beginner, a GoPro is a great option since it is versatile and not as expensive as a DSLR with underwater housing. Remember, “splash resistant” does not equal waterproof! If you are going underwater, have anti-fog inserts in your housing, consider a red filter and a light source.
- Know Your Priorities – Chance are, unless you are a professional photographer or videographer, your first priority should just be to enjoy the experience. Preserving the images is secondary. As I get to know more and more divers, for example, I hear stories about how they did not truly begin to enjoy their dive experiences until the decided to leave their cameras on the boat. Find the balance that works for you (or is influenced by safety or environmental considerations).
- Consider Some Variety – If you are going to put together a video or electronic scrapbook from your photos or clips, consider capturing different perspectives that will make sense in a montage. For example, don’t make every shot a close-up. Beauty is everywhere, even when you are not right on top of it. Take lots of footage and snap lots of shots. You may be surprised which you actually like the most.
- Get a Move On – Take the photo. Move on. Repeat. There is rarely a reason for an amateur to sit and ponder the right angle, perfect setting, switch out lenses, etc., especially if there are other people waiting. Just capture the moment and be courteous to those around you.
- Experiment – When you find a fun location that is not overrun with tourists, that is the time to experiment and play with options. If you have always wanted that opportunity to try a time-lapse setting or a continuous burst, by all means, knock yourself out.
- Plan for Worst Case Scenarios – Consider bringing extra memory cards, batteries and adapters. If you misplace or exhaust supplies, you will be happy you have a backup plan.
- Stay Organized – It can be difficult for me to pare down my photos after traveling, and the more time that passes, the more I tend to forget details around the context and uniqueness of each experience. My recommendation for travelers who want to preserve their memories is to supplement photos with a written journal to capture thoughts throughout a trip, rather than waiting until you return home. While I often scribble notes on paper during the trip, I have found that if I transcribe these into electronic format, it makes my life easier because sometimes I can’t even read my own writing after a while. When it comes to photos, I generally have a “more is better” philosophy because I tend to throw out ~85% of the images I capture. There is a delicate balance between photographing a trip and enjoying a trip, so be careful that you don’t sacrifice one for the other unless you have a very specific objective for your travel. That said, sometimes the best photos are the ones you almost didn’t take.