Travel Photography: Capturing the Flavor of a Destination
This is a guest blog by Michael C. Snell.
Travel photography encompasses many kinds of photography. A travel photographer may shoot portraits, architecture, food, and landscapes all in the same day, for the same project. The thing that ties all of these elements together to become what I consider to be “travel photography” is when the images showcase what is special or unique about a place. In other words, it is more about the intent to communicate the essence of a destination than it is to record a specific subject.
Considering what gear to use can be critical to being able to capture these images. When traveling, you don’t want to overburden yourself with equipment so that you tire easily, but you also want to be able to quickly react to any situation and get the shot. I like a zoom lens with a range from fairly wide to telephoto as my primary walk-around lens when traveling. No one lens can do everything perfectly, but some — like the Tamron 16-300mm All-In-One™ Zoom that I’ve been carrying lately — can perform quite well. Fast primes have a definite place in my heart, but they’re not flexible enough for my daily range of shooting. My solution is to carry two bodies: one with my “walk-around” lens and the other with a prime or other specialty lens that I think might come in most handy given they day’s itinerary. This way I’m prepared for anything I encounter.
While my instinct has always been to shoot wide, I find that most of my favorite images come from the short telephoto range. I think that instinct comes from an impulse many of us have to get everything into the frame. If you want to show what a place is really like, you want everything around you in the shot, right? Well, not usually. Most strong images are greatly simplified and carefully edited in the frame. Only showing a fragment of a scene will help focus the viewer’s attention by eliminating distractions. Some background elements can help provide information about the setting, but they should enhance rather than detract from the subject.
The images in this post are from a trip I took to Valencia, Spain, last week as the preparations for the annual Fallas festival were getting underway. Hopefully these will help illustrate how I try and minimize a scene down to the basics, while keeping enough information in-frame to give the viewer a feeling for where they are. Both the shot with the trees and the architectural shot with the arch were made with the Tamron 16-300mm lens: the first using the wide end (22mm) and the arch using the telephoto end (78mm).
The architecture of Valencia inspired me a great deal. I’ve been to various parts of Spain but this was my first time in Valencia. There were familiar elements to the architectural styles I encountered here, but it all seemed to have its own Valencian flair. In some of these examples, you’ll notice that I don’t even show the entire building. There’s really no need because it’s not a portrait of a specific building. The images are intended to show some of the texture and detail of the city, with a few other elements incorporated — like the bare trees — that provide extra information to the viewer.
The sunrise shot over the Mediterranean was made from my room’s balcony at the Parador el Saler just outside of Valencia. I used the Tamron SP150-600mm Super Telephoto Zoom lens, which I love and will be using a lot next week when I’m working on a birding project. On most days, it’s not my go-to walk-around lens however. Again, it’s all about selecting what you expect to be most useful for any given day’s itinerary.
The tomato photo is a good example of a time when I had a macro lens on my second body because I knew that the Central Market was going to be a great location for detail food shots. This one was made with the new Tamron SP 90mm F/2.8 Di VC USD 1:1 Macro.
The photo of the two women is a little more street-style, but again shows that travel photography isn’t always about straight portraiture. In this case, I ran across these two women taking a selfie while in a very large crowd of people waiting for a fireworks show. They were in their festival dresses and I was especially impressed by the way they were wearing their hair. The selfie provided the perfect opportunity to shoot a portrait that isn’t of the specific women, but the cultural element of their hairstyles.
The photo of the tower at sunset was made by leaning out of my 6th floor hotel room window with the new Tamron SP 45mm F/1.8 Di VC USD Prime. Probably not advisable technique, but it worked and that lens is a beauty.
To sum up, lens selection can be crucial to being able to edit within the frame — but it’s also important to be prepared for the unexpected. I find an all-in-one™ zoom is critical as a “safety” lens for those unexpected moments, and then you can use a second body for specialty lenses without having to feel like you need to carry your entire arsenal at all times. Choosing your lenses is a lot like composing your images. Edit, edit, edit. Don’t wear yourself out carrying things that don’t get used.
This article is written by Michael C. Snell. You can check out more of his work over at his website here!