When traveling for personal or business reasons, many of us grab our cameras to photograph interesting subjects and places. After-all, we do want to come back with good memories and pictures from our adventures. In this article, we will explore the joy of travel photography and provide some tips on how you can take amazing images while on the road. Unless you have the luxury of close access to National Parks or scenic destinations or can travel during the off-seasons, visiting a destination for the first time is something hard to plan for. Prior to each trip, I always browse the Internet to look for interesting locations I may want to visit. It is especially hard to fully explore some National Parks such as the ones in Utah in only under a week. Therefore, pre-planning some hiking trips doable by the whole family within the limited time is a must.
Travel Photography: Planning
Google can be your best friend to plan out your travel and the locations you should visit. While browsing the Internet for cool architecture to photograph during an extended stay in Beijing, China, I found a futuristic mall and office building complex known as The Galaxy Soho—architecture that might have come out of movies like Star Wars.
While you can tread the Great Wall alongside the millions of people who visit the Great Wall at Badaling, you can travel approximately two hours outside of Beijing to Jingshanling where the more serious photographers and hikers go with just a little bit more research. The same applies to many other wonderful locations around the world – if you are willing to spend a little bit of time with proper planning, you can always get to prime spots easier with the least number of tourists to worry about.
During my trips, I always make sure to check the weather forecast daily, sometimes hourly, making sure to plan my time well. In addition, location scouting if time is permissible can pay off greatly in the long run. As many people know, China’s weather is not amazing, especially in the cities where thick haze consumes them. However, any big rainfall clears up the haze for several days. The following two shots are of the Beijing Opera House, one taken during a hazy night and one taken after it had rained; the latter one came also with a much better composition.
Get Up Early
For popular destinations, waking up early is the key. Even though the opportunity cost of leaving your warm and comfortable bed may seem to greatly outweigh getting out of bed, waking up early will allow you to avoid capturing crowds of people passing through your frames.
For instance, traversing the Narrows at the Zion National Park at sunrise is a wonderful experience. Listening to the trickling water and seeing the sunlight reflecting off the ravine walls is breathtaking.
Unless you know the area well, it may take extra time to travel to the destination as well as to find a good spot for a composition. Therefore waking up extra early may be needed. Just over the past summer, I woke up at 3AM to hike up the Great Wall under the moonlight. Being able to take the time to think and compose without external sounds other than your natural surroundings feels magical.
Keep On Trying
Persistence always pays off. While you have to accommodate for others who may be traveling with you, you need to trust your gut. On my trip to Utah, I was dismayed when I learned that I wouldn’t be able to visit Canyonlands National Park due to my family’s vacation being not long enough. Fortunately we visited Arches National Park and were staying at a nearby hotel for the night before we drove back to the airport the next day. Seeing that Canyonlands was extremely close by, I was able to visit Canyonlands for the sunrise while my brothers snoozed at the hotel.
While Canyonlands definitely deserves a more formal visit, spontaneous trips are always fun. Passion for photography definitely shows.
Arriving later than planned at the Jingshanling Great Wall after a long drive, my family was ready to rest for the rest of the day and just climb the wall in the morning (this was only a one day trip). From down the hill, I observed the lighting and clouds and could tell that the sunset would be amazing. While everybody else was prepared to order dinner, I couldn’t sit there and let a good moment pass by. I brought my dad along with me and we quickly raced to the wall and got the following shot (the rest of my family shortly followed). From what other photographers on the wall told us, that sunset was the best in a long time and that my family and I were very fortunate to have picked that very day to visit.
Don’t Forget About Photographic Vision
Visiting Bryce National Park, I envisioned the soft orange glow of the sunrise waking the Hoodoos from their slumber. Make use of every amount of time possible. My family arrived at Bryce in the late afternoon so fully capturing the sunset wouldn’t be possible (let alone taking the time to compose a shot). Instead, we followed the scenic drive and stopped at each location so I could quickly scout for good locations for the sunrise the following day.
As a side note, remember not to get caught up in the moment. Enjoy it, especially when you’re traveling with others. A photograph is more meaningful when there is a story behind it with the people whom you shared the moment with.
Perspective is key to your own photographic vision. Avoid places where you see people grouped up taking the same picture. Slow down and think. The reflection in the following picture utilized a muddy pool off to the side. You can’t see the muddiness of the pool if you get low enough at position and angle.
Sunrises and sunsets are great and all until the weather (or environment) works against you. No sun equals no picture. Think again. Use your bad circumstances to your advantage. It all depends on how you envision the atmosphere in a shot and make the environment work towards your favor, just like the previously mentioned pervasive smog/haze throughout many parts of China. At the right angles, it can be used to create a light beam effect.
I was told by my tour guides during my visit to Tibet that sunrises and sunsets essentially did not exist because of the spontaneous mountain-weather and the mountain peaks that blocked the sunlight. Unfortunately the weather didn’t work out for me but rain can be utilized in interesting ways. Get creative.
This guest post was submitted by Hongsen Yang, a 19 year old photographer from Belmont, Massachusetts. He is currently a freshman majoring in electrical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and continues to pursue photography as a hobby. Visit Hongsen’s website to view more of his work.