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How to Up Your Travel Photography Game


To come home from your journey with the most awesome photos possible, you need the right tools, techniques and trips.

Published on Apr 11, 2017

 

*Prices throughout are listed in U.S. dollars and the cost of gear may vary by region and retailer.

 

HOW I GOT THE SHOT

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Freediving in the Philippines

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Freediving
By Francisco Guerrero.

"When traveling in the tropics, it's always a good idea to carry camera gear that lets you shoot underwater. I took this photo with a Sony RX100 and Recsea underwater housing, but any gear set up will work if you keep it well maintained and double check the rubber seals. While in Palawan, I wanted to capture the coral formations but I needed a human element for scale, so for this shot I asked this staff member at Flower Island Resort to come with me as a model. When shooting underwater, you don't need to go too deep–the light is best between two and six meters. If you venture farther the water filters out the light intensity and you loose the colors. If you do have to go deeper, use a red filter to make the colors pop. And always dive or swim with a buddy; it is safer and you have a model."

 

  Check list
Illustrations by Kagan McLeod.

 

 

THE PRE-TRIP CHECKLIST
T+L's photo editors share their tips on what to take along.

 
  A LENS CLOTH
Never use a napkin to remove dirt from a lens. Zeiss makes a microfiber pouch that doubles as a cloth (amazon.com; $5). For a more thorough cleaning, apply ROR Residual Oil Remover (ror.net; $6).
 
 
 

EXTRA STORAGE
Estimate the number of memory cards you'll need based on your pics' average file size, how often you snap and whether you shoot video. Then bring twice that many. Store them separately from your camera in a waterproof case.

 
 

A CONNECTION TO THE CLOUD
Set up an iCloud, Google Drive or Dropbox pro account to back up your photos any time your device is connected to Wi-Fi. You'll have to pay extra, but if you ever lose your camera, you'll be glad you did.

 
  ONLY THE CABLES YOU NEED
Many non-Apple products, including Android phones and cameras, use micro-USB connectors, so you should be able to bring just one and avoid that dreaded tangle of cords. Most USB wall adapters are interchangeable, too.
 

 

                       
  SMARTPHONE SECRETS
Amp up your snaps without downloading extra apps.

  1 Burst Mode
Keep your finger on the shutter button of your iPhone or Android to capture a rapid series of shots. Select your favorite later on.
  2 Focus Lock
Hold a spot on your camera screen until you get a "Lock" message. A square will appear, showing where your focus is set, even if you reframe.
  3 Photo and Video In One
Press the concentric-circles icon on an iPhone or activate "Motion Picture" in Settings on a Samsung Galaxy to capture a video snippet.
 
                       

 

Picture-Perfect Journeys

A host of photo-focused trips place travelers alongside experts and educators in the world's most appealing classrooms.

 

Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle. By Elia-Locardi.

1. VIETNAM
Join travel photographer Nathan Horton on a 13-day tour through the beguiling region of Northern Vietnam. From the rice terraces of the north east, to life on the streets of Hanoi, to the seascape of Halong Bay, you'll leave this tour with a memory card full of unforgettable shots. nathanhortonphotography.com; May and Nov.; from $3,800.

2. JAPAN
There may not be anywhere in the world quite as picturesque as Japan in the springtime. On this tour join photography husband-and-wife team Elia and Naomi Locardi in capturing the beauty of Japan's ancient castles, iconic shrines and, of course, the eminently photogenic cherry blossoms. dreamphototours.com; March and April; from $6,995.

3. BURMA
Lighting is everything when it comes to getting the perfect shot. In a country that seems to be constantly cast in a golden sheen, you'll be thankful to have photographer Ian Robert Knight to show you how to properly capture it all on this 11-day tour of the most snappable sights. photoworkshopadventures.com; Jan. to March; from $8,995.

4. THE GALÁPAGOS
Eight photographers and naturalists join guests aboard the National Geographic Endeavour on Lindblad Expeditions' 17-day Galápagos Photo Expedition. The trip includes a workshop in Guayaquil, Ecuador, daily assignments, along with wildlife-viewing adventures. expeditions.com; Nov.–Dec. 2017; from $13,180.

 

  Print Matters
Illustrations by Kagan McLeod.

 

 

PRINT MATTERS
These services will turn your favorite digital photos into treasured mementos.

 
  FRACTURE
This company offers a single product, but it's a great one: your photo printed directly onto glass and ready to hang, without a frame or additional hardware. Eight square and rectangular sizes are available. fractureme.com; from $15.

 
 

ARTIFACT UPRISING
For all of its books, cards and prints, this brand uses paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. It also sells accessories, like display stands. artifactuprising.com; cards from $1, books from $18, prints from $20.

 
  A CONNECTION TO THE CLOUD
Set up an iCloud, Google Drive or Dropbox pro account to back up your photos any time your device is connected to Wi-Fi. You'll have to pay extra, but if you ever lose your camera, you'll be glad you did. 

 
  ONLY THE CABLES YOU NEED
Many non-Apple products, including Android phones and cameras, use micro-USB connectors, so you should be able to bring just one and avoid that dreaded tangle of cords. Most USB wall adapters are interchangeable, too.

 

 

 

HOW I GOT THE SHOT

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A Mardi Gras Indian in New Orleans

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Mardi Gras Indian
By Bryce Duffy.

"Ronald Lewis, who runs the House of Dance and Feathers in New Orleans, told me about this Super Sunday parade the Mardi Gras Indians put on. The big chiefs have the most elaborate costumes, with highly detailed beadwork. I took this picture in the middle of the day, when the light creates harder shadows and brighter highlights. My assistant was carrying a strobe that we used to supplement the natural light. Because this was a parade, and the big chiefs were drumming and singing, I didn't want to do static pictures—I wanted it to feel like you were witnessing the moment. There were tons of people around, pretty much touching the feathers. This composition came out of just wanting to focus on him, without the distraction of the other people."

 

 
Illustrations by Kagan McLeod.

 

 

IT'S ALL IN THE EDIT
Whether you're working on your phone or a computer, these easy tricks will improve your pics.

 
  CROPPING AND LEVELING
Both Android and iOS have solid built-in tools for these tasks. To zoom in on part of your photo, tap "Edit," then the "Crop" icon, which looks like two interlocking Ls. Drag the corners of the overlaid box to adjust your frame. To correct tilt, use the protractor interface below the image.

 
  ELIMINATE RED EYE
Pixlr is one of the best mobile apps for softening that demonic glow. Tap the circular "Tools" icon, select "Red Eye," then tap both pupils to make them a realistic color. On a desktop, try Adobe Photoshop Elements, which includes a "Pet Eye" box within its "Red Eye" tool.

 
  REMOVING DUST
On your phone, Snapseed's "Healing" tool, Aviary's "Blemish" tool, and TouchRetouch all get rid of specks caused by pollen or pocket lint. On your desktop, go with Photoshop's "Spot Healing" tool. Just touch each mote to replace it with the surrounding color.

 
  ENHANCING EXPOSURE
Fix blown-out shots (common at the beach or on the slopes) with Photoshop's Lightroom app. It allows you to apply an "Auto Tone" effect to balance images, reduce the exposure compensation, or apply a tone curve—adjustments that also help out with underexposed shots.

 
  FIXING NIGHTTIME SHOTS
Android and iOS apps like Manual, Camera+, and Night Camera can all help with dark shooting. Adobe Lightroom offers white-balance control, vibrance and saturation sliders, and highlight and shadow tools. The VS CO app has filters to bring out details obscured by the dark.

 

 

Do This, Not That

Follow these simple rules to get an indelible image in any travel situation.

Shot from above
By David Alexander Arnold.

FOOD

1. Overhead shots are almost foolproof—preferably pulled back far enough to reveal place settings. When shooting sandwiches or burgers, cut first and tilt one half up toward the camera. 2. Meals look best in natural light, so try to score a window seat. 3. In low-light situations, to avoid the glare of the flash, ask a friend to turn on their smartphone's flashlight and wrap it in a napkin for more diffuse illumination.

  Shot from side
By Kira Turnbull.

Building details
By David Alexander Arnold.

ARCHITECTURE

1. At street level, it can be difficult to capture an entire building without distorting its shape, so consider zooming in on a compelling design detail. 2. Ornamentation on a façade will look different in direct light from the way it does in shadow. Walk around the building to assess your lighting options. 3. When shooting an interior, you probably won't have much light, so use wide aperture, a slow shutter speed or a tripod.

  Entire building
By David Alexander Arnold.

Well-lit subject
By Mary Robnett.

LANDSCAPES

1. Pay attention to the direction of the sun. To avoid overexposed backgrounds, photograph your subject with the light shining on it, rather than from behind. 2. Shoot in the early morning or late afternoon, when the light is softer, and try to avoid the harsh midday sun, which can lead to washed-out photos. 3. Find a focal point, such as a building, person, tree or vehicle, to help communicate the overall scale of the landscape.

  Backlit subject
By Mary Robnett.

Soft light
By Mariah Tyler.

PEOPLE

1. Look for a shady or light-dappled spot to shoot portraits. If you're in direct sunlight, avoid blinding your subjects by telling them to close their eyes and giving them a countdown until you take the shot. 2. Always ask permission before taking portraits of locals. It's polite, and it will give you time to set up your shot. 3. For street scenes, stand on a busy corner and wait for an interesting situation, then start snapping.

  Harsh light
By Mariah Tyler.

 

 

HOW I GOT THE SHOT

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New Zealand Night Sky

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Night Sky
By Brent Purcell.

"Sometimes you get lucky, and this particular night we did. The clouds disappeared, there was no moon and a fishing boat had come in to shelter for the night, illuminating the right-hand side. Nugget Point, pictured here, is located on the east coast of New Zealand near the bottom of the South Island, a four-hour drive from Christchurch. There is minimal light pollution here as it is kilometers from anywhere. The nearest populated land mass is South America, 6,500 kilometers away. During the day we had used the Photopills app to check the time when the Milky Way would line up with the lighthouse. This shot was taken with a Nikon D810 with a F2.8 14-24mm lens. Aperture was set to F2.8 in order to catch the most light. The ISO was set to 5,000 over a 25 second exposure. Set your ISO to capture the stars, compensating for any light pollution and your camera's ability to handle high ISO. Keep your shots to between 10 and 30 seconds depending on your lens, to limit star trails: the longer the lens, the shorter the exposure."

                       

BEYOND THE SNAP
Add texture to your vacation diary with these next-gen visual storytelling formats.

  1 The Animated GIF
Capture people and scenes in action by shooting them as video loops rather than stills, using apps like DSCO , Boomerang or Phhhoto.
  2 The 360-Degree Photo
Next time you're on top of a building or a mountain, record everything you see, using Google's Street View app, then share it on Facebook.
  3 The Mash-Up
Combine stills, videos and text using Snapchat or Instagram Stories—or automate with Magisto or Google Photos' Assistant feature.
 
                       

 

 

The Gear

From VR cameras to tripods, our pick of the best equipment for documenting your next trip.

 

 DRONES 

Aerial footage can take your travel video up a notch. But even though consumer drones are increasingly affordable and user-friendly, flying one comes with rules and regulations, which vary by destination. Go to uavcoach.com/drone-laws to look up the aerial laws by country.

Phantom 4 Quadcopter
DJI's sleeker and younger sibling of the Phantom 3 has the same features plus a system that senses and avoids airborne obstacles—thus protecting your investment. dji.com; $1,399.

Phantom 4 Quadcopter
By Sam Kaplan.

 

 ACTION VIDEO CAMERAS 

Want to film while schussing down a double-black-diamond? Look for models that keep the image stable during camera movement; daredevil videographers will want slow-motion capabilities and ultra-tough bodies.

GoProHERO5 Black
Courtesy of GoPro.
  VTech Kidizoom Action Cam
Courtesy of VTech.
  Ricoh WG-M2
Courtesy of Ricoh.
1. GoProHERO5 Black
This GoPro has voice-control functionality, a two-inch touch screen, GPS, electronic stabilization, and is waterproof down to 10 meters without housing. gopro.com; $400.
  2. VTech Kidizoom Action Cam
This unit is hardy, waterproof, and easy to use—perfect if your kid's an Evel Knievel. Plus it comes with cool filters and accessories to strap it to a bike or skateboard. vtechkids.com; $38.
  3. Ricoh WG-M2
You can drop, step on, freeze, and submerge (down to 20 meters) this durable and slickly designed camera, which shoots 4K video and has built-in Wi-Fi. us.ricoh-imaging.com; $299.

 

 360-DEGREE CAMERAS 

These are the cameras that make virtual reality possible, by shooting with multiple lenses simultaneously in a full 360 degrees, then stitching the images together into one seamless shot. (Watch the footage on a headset like Oculus Rift for an immersive experience, or watch and share it on YouTube and Facebook.)

1. Ricoh Theta
The most accessible to the most people, this camera has two wide-angle lenses that can join video and images together at a super-speedy 30 frames per second (Avatar was filmed at 24 fps). You can live-stream and edit footage on your iPhone using Ricoh's Theta+ Video app; or go all out with Adobe Premiere on your desktop. theta360.com; $349.

2. Orah 4i
Until recently, 1080-pixel resolution was the standard. But the Orah 4i, which integrates four cameras into one handheld device, can capture footage at four times that clarity and has four built-in microphones that record immersive sound. Instead of the usual memory cards, it connects with a single wire to its "stitcher," for seamless playback. orah.co; $2,195.

3. GoPro Omni
Designed for professional-level VR , the action-cam pioneer's top-end equipment captures 360-degree video on what's essentially six GoPros attached to one spherical frame. It automatically syncs up the timing and settings, which results in seamless footage you don't have to edit together manually. gopro.com; $5,000.

GoPro Omni
GoPro Omni. Courtesy of GoPro.

 

 MIRRORLESS CAMERAS 

One of the fastest-growing segments of the industry, mirrorless cameras beam the image straight to an LCD screen instead of bouncing it off a mirror to a viewfinder, as a DSLR does. This means the camera body is smaller, with nearly the same resolution and the ability to fit an array of lenses. The main setback is that most mirrorless cameras lack a manual focus option (a disadvantage for serious photographers).

1. Sony Alpha a7R II
It has many features associated with high-end DSLRs, including 42.4mp resolution, good stabilization for video, and high light sensitivity. sony.com; $3,199, body only.

2. Fujifilm X-T1
The superfast focus makes it hard to take a blurry shot, and the 16mp sensor is virtually as sharp as most DSLRs. fujifilm.com; $1,399, including one lens.

 

 INSTANT CAMERAS 

Your eighties-era self may not believe it, but instant cameras are back. Not much has changed: the camera exposes an image and prints it on self-contained photo paper. Which doesn't make for amazing image quality, but that's not the point—nostalgia is.

Fujifilm Instax Mini 8
Courtesy of Fujifilm.
  Impossible I-1
Courtesy of the Impossible Project.
1. Fujifilm Instax Mini 8
This was the company's biggest seller in 2015, thanks to its small size, light weight (about 300 grams), and candy colors. One drawback is that the selfie lens is sold separately. instax.com; $54.
  2. Impossible l-1
The Impossible Project's camera uses classic Polaroid film, but is improved with a lens surrounded by an LED light ring, and Bluetooth to send digital images to your phone. impossibleproject.com; $388.

 

 PRO DSLRS 

DSLRs (digital single-lens reflex cameras) replicate the multilayer, multicolor technology of an old-fashioned pro 35 mm film camera—but with a digital imaging sensor. Today's DSLRs can have resolutions as high as 50 megapixels (about 25 times that of your standard phone camera), but anything over 20 is a good level. They're generally sold without lenses.

1. Canon Rebel EOS T6i
All the DSLRs from the Rebel line perform well—and they're generally less bulky than much of the competition—but the T6i stands out for its 24.2mp sensor, built-in Wi-Fi, and speedy focus. canon.com; from $399.

2. Nikon D500
A lower-priced alternative to the pro-favorite D5, the D500 offers the same 20.9mp resolution, 4K video, and touch-screen controls in a smaller package—for about $4,500 less. nikon.com; from $2,000.

 

GOT IT IN THE BAG?
Every great camera needs a worthy case. The latest ones offer good looks and smart solutions for today's equipment.

1. Michael Kors
The designer's retro-inspired leather Scout bag—which also comes in deep red, bright orange and soft blue—was made to fit Fujifilm's Instax Mini 70. The brands collaborated on an exclusive metallic version of the instant camera. michaelkors.com; $348.

Michael Kors
By Sam Kaplan.

Killspencer
Courtesy of Killspencer.
  Mark Cross
Courtesy of Mark Cross.
2. Killspencer
This update on a traditional camera case is made with leather inside and out, a cross-body strap and industrial hardware that stands up to heavy use. It has slots for a camera, lens and accessories; other interior organizers like lens bags are available. killspencer.com; $750.
  3. Mark Cross
A luxe bag that strikes the right balance between style and function: the hard-sided case—curved to sit perfectly on the hip—keeps equipment safe and organized. Saffiano leather, sleek hardware, a playful key chain and a top handle keep you on-trend. matchesfashion.com; $2,495.
Lo & Sons.
Courtesy of Lo & Sons.
  Ona
Courtesy of Ona.
4. Lo & Sons
The purse that became a camera case: what looks from the outside like a discreet leather handbag contains internal compartments that house a DSLR or mirrorless camera, a small lens, cords and memory cards, along with your keys, wallet and phone. loandsons.com; $300.
  5. Ona
With enough room to fit an 11-inch laptop, a DS LR camera and two lenses, this is the satchel for the serious traveling shutterbug. The double straps make it comfortable to carry, and the water-resistant waxed-canvas exterior keeps everything clean and dry. onabags.com; $279.

 

EXTRA HELPINGS?
Whether you use a phone or a Leica, the right accessories can make your shot a keeper (and the envy of Instagram).

 

 ADD-ONS FOR ANY KIND OF CAMERA... 

1. Joby GorillaPod
Already a design classic, the legs of this multi-jointed stand twist into any position. Comes in DSLR- and phone-friendly models. joby.com; from $49.

Joby GorillaPod
Joby GorillaPod. By Sam Kaplan.

2. Canon Pixma MG7720 Printer
Wirelessly beam images from the cloud to this printer/scanner that handles both 4 x 6 and 8 x 10 paper. canon.com; $140.

3. Rocket Blaster
Stop blowing onto your lens—the way to clean it is with this simple, syringe-like device with a one-way valve that shoots out clean air. giottos.com; $10.

4. Zeiss Lens Cleaning Wipes
You'll want to keep your 360-degree HD video camera spotless. These will erase all grease and grime. amazon.com; $14 for 200.

 

 IF YOU'RE SHOOTING WITH A PHONE... 

1. Moment Lenses
Three lenses (sold individually) that clip over your phone's lens let you zoom, go wide-angle, or get super close—so you can get the Angkor Wat at sunset or that butterfly on a branch. momentlens.co; $100.

Moment
Courtesy of Moment.

2. LuMee Glowing Selfie Case
Let's be honest: the front-facing cameras of most phones barely pass muster, especially in low-light conditions. To make selfies pop, get a case that lights your shots. lumee.com; from $50.

3. Quikpod Selfie Stick
If you must be that person with a selfie stick, get a good one (and refer to it as a monopod). Quickpod's version is sturdy and ergonomic; works with GoPros, point-and-shoots and phones; and comes with an optional tripod accessory. quikpod.com; $50.

 

 IF YOU'RE SHOOTING WITH A DSLR... 

1. Incase Portable Power 5400
Your phone's not the only device that needs a backup power source. A DSLR juice pack takes up only as much space as a deck of cards. incase.com; $80.

Incase
Incase Portable Power 5400. Courtesy of Incase.

2. Vanguard Alta Pro Tripod 263AP
Pretty much your dad's tripod—and the best all-around base for your equipment we've found: a head that pivots 360 degrees, rubberized feet and a full height of nearly two meters. vanguardworld.us; $130.

 

 

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By Brent Purcell.
  • By Sam Kaplan.
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