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.
Table of Contents
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.
What about travel safety? When you travel to foreign countries like Brazil, Mexico, Costa Rica, etc. How do you protect yourself from being robbed, or kidnapped. For Example in 2009 at a beach in Baja Mexico. Two men approached me and wanted to the pictures that I took at the beach. I showed them all of the pictures. I suspect that they wanted to see if I had photographed them. After I had showed them all of the photos that I had took they tried to lure me into an alley.
Google Earth is INVALUABLE when it comes to photography in unknown locations.
Great photos and article! Planning is essential, but one of the most important thinks is to be flexible and try to adapt to the circunstances – many times, even seeing the weather previously, bad weather appeared on the only time I was able to shot a place. We have to get the most of what we get, and don’t let be down for not being what we wished for.
Thanks! I agree. You can’t always get the best weather when you’re traveling during a short period of time. Sometimes “bad weather” can turn out amazing in different ways depending on how you compose your shot.
Great shots! I recognize the Virgin River in Zion Park also all others in the National parks. It should be important to know, if you want to stay in hotels in the Parks, you have to book well in advance, sometimes one year before your trip. Same for the photographer’s tour (different the the regular tour.) in the fantastic Antilope Canyon where you must have a guide (it belongs to Natives) with also a year in advance for reservation. It is very crowdy.
This is avery usefull page to get the sun’s position for photography. www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutor…ulator.htm
Yes! I forgot to mention about booking hotels and tours in advance. I had the luxury of my parents booking these things for me. The photographic tour for the Antelope Canyons is a must do. They guide you to the best locations, allow you to use a tripod, and even halt oncoming people part of the normal tour group when the light beams falls into the canyon. My parents and older brother took the regular tour and their tour just walked quickly in and out of the canyon.
Any discussion of planning trips, especially to National Parks, should mention the fantastic Photograph America Newsletter, self-published by photographer Robert Hitchman FOR TWENTY SIX YEARS! These meticulously researched and clearly written guides to most places worth photographing have greatly enhanced numerous photo trips for me! photographamerica.com. I have zero affiliation with this, only appreciation.
I haven’t heard of the newsletter before. Thank you for showing me. I’ll definitely look into his newsletters before my trip to Washington’s National Parks this summer.
Many thanks for this tip. I am planning a trip for next year, from the UK, and this is exactly what I was looking for.
Great pictures and a nice write up. Good job!
It all depends upon your situation, though. One travel article I would like to see on PL is travel photography when you have young children. The answer can’t be leaving them behind to go off somewhere.
NWCS, yes it can. The answer is duct tape and lots of it. Just kidding. Recently, my wife, her youngest daughter and our first granddaughter went on a weekend trip. It became very difficult for me to get away to photography what I wanted because of family constraints. I just took advantage of whatever was there and tried to make the best of it. It did give me a great opportunity to make some very candid portraits of my granddaughter though.
Duct tape would be interesting but would probably lead to grumpy kids. :P Maybe try and teach them photography and it might lead to becoming their hobby. It’ll be a fun learning/teaching opportunity and future trips will be more exciting.
Yes, I agree that might be a good idea. If it does’t work there is always duct tape. LOL
Thank you! Luckily, my twin and I were 16 and my older brother was 18 at the time when my family visited Arizona. Although we’ve haven’t done long hikes before, it was a fun experience for all of us. Though, I don’t have experience (yet) with traveling with small children. That would be a nice article idea.
Maybe try and engage young children into photography by giving them a (cheaper) camera and allow them to tag along with you.
Wonderful work and beautifully presented here. Thank you for sharing your family time with us.
Superb photos and essay, Hongsen!
Hongsen, what wonderful images you have presented here, you have a natural eye for composition, a wonderful camera, and the skill to capture and post process them to this very high standard. Good luck with your studies in Ohio, but wherever your career takes you, be sure to continue your interest in photography. You are fortunate to be able to visit places many of us can only dream of due to other committments so seeing them through your eyes is quite a privellige. Especiallly with your obvious ability.
When did you first begin taking photography seriously? What brought you to a D600 so young? I would be fascinated to hear more of your story.
Thank you for the kind comment. I’ll definitely be continuing photography in the future. My family is planning a trip to visit some National Parks in Washington state this summer and I greatly look forward to that. I was thinking about putting an introduction to this article but for some reason I decided to leave it out. Here’s a brief “About Me” below:
I first started taking photography seriously close to the end of my sophomore year in high school (2012). This was approximately a month before my trip to Arizona. My parents bought a Nikon D90 in 2010 but no one in my family took the time to learn photography. I’ve taken many years of art classes and did AP Art during my junior and senior years of high school so that has definitely taught me the concepts of composition. PhotographyLife (previously known as the Mansurovs) was one of the first blogs I came upon and learned a lot prior to my trip to Arizona. It was and still is a great resource to learn new things since there is still a lot to learn.
From then to now, I’ve visited Arizona, Utah, and most recently China to also visit my grandparents. My parents had a lot of friends and connections in China so they greatly helped me get around. For example, the last picture in the article of the CCTV headquarters was taken on the ninth floor of an office building which I got access to through my parent’s friend who was the owner of firm on that floor. But even then I had to work around dirty windows due to the smoggy weather, etc.
As for the D600, I invested in it during my senior year in high school. I choose the D600 because it was a great entry level full frame camera. The D800 was too big of a price jump. I unintentionally started a senior portrait business at my high school (one person led to the next and so on) and took pictures for 60 classmates, approximately 25% of my senior class. I ended up being able to repay my parents all of the money for the camera with extra left over. You can see some of the portraits I’ve taken on my website.
That’s as much as I can think of at the moment.