This set of tips will probably be most useful for landscape photographers. I consider myself to be rather a travel photographer, shooting more than only landscapes but still – I always try to follow this list automatically on any photography location.
If you learn to do these important steps on location, I guarantee you to be in long-term more confident, faster and to develop eye for assessing the place from photography perspective. Also, you’ll have much better feeling of the work you’ve just done before even taking your effort into computer.
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1. Get to know the location before getting out your camera
This one might be the most important tip of the five and easily the one which is neglected the most, so I’ll spend the majority of words on it. Get familiar with the photography location!
I’m someone who gets easily overwhelmed when arriving to an exciting new place and always, ALWAYS tends to start snapping images like a first-time tourist. What really helps is breath in and out first and absorb the beauty around you with the best camera you have with you – your naked eyes. Do not get your camera out yet!
Great practice is to walk around the location only with your smartphone before you start serious shooting. Smartphone camera will help you to decide on composition, it will show you approximately what will fit into your image using wide lens. And in the end, a phone camera also has a zoom, so it can help you assessing the place even for your long lens.
What works the best for me is visiting the same place twice. And I do realize it is not always possible in travel photography. But when you’re familiar with your location already, not only you’ll know what works well with your camera but you also won’t be as blinded as the excited first-time tourist. Which means that you may discover new perspectives or subjects. And unless your heart is made of rusting razor blades, you’ll appreciate the beauty of a nice photography location in any weather, any time of a day, any season – no place in the world looks exactly the same twice. Isn’t that fascinating?
2. Decide what you want to shoot and what you’ll need for it
Once you do the quick location scouting and enjoy a bit of the place and fresh air, it is decision time. Take a moment to imagine in your mind, what you want to materialize in your camera. Let the smartphone snapshots help you. Don’t forget it’s you, your mind and your creativity that’s out there right now. So don’t just do the iconic shots everybody have seen already.
What is the thing that really makes me like this place? What story I want to tell with my image? Should I incorporate foreground or not? Do I want to go horizontal or vertical? Wide lens or rather long lens or both? Am I considering converting to black and white later? Do I want to do a long exposure or just something in between? Will I use a filter? Those are just some basic questions that run through my head before setting up a tripod.
Also, it helps me not to go too crazy about the number of compositions I shoot – just by thinking about what I actually want.
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3. Set up your tripod to the right height and as stable as possible
Right, so now you have your image in your head, it’s time to create it in your camera. But first, set up your tripod where you need it to be at approximately the right height (you can always use the middle column for small adjustments). Make it as stable as possible – there is often a small hook, which you can use to add some weight to it (by hanging a bag etc. on it).
There’s nothing more annoying than having to readjust the tripod legs in the middle of the shooting. This will undoubtedly move your composition, so if you planned to do some photo stacking later in the computer, you’ll have to start all over again. So do it right and you’ll only have to do it once!
I rarely do panoramic photos but when I do, it definitely pays off to invest time into levelling your tripod as well as you can manage. Otherwise the panoramic mode or the panoramic stitching later simply won’t work and you’ll get some strange effects.
4. Check out your camera and its settings
I admit having problems with this tip. It’s not that I’d forget the entire step but way too often I fail to check something about my camera. Always have a look at the outside first – check the cleanliness of the lens and the filter you’re using, the small buttons on lens if you have some (typically AF/MF and Image stabilization ON/OFF). Will your battery make it through the shot? No experimental settings from your last photography adventure? Are you in the right mode, right ISO, shutter speed and aperture? I highly recommend to get familiar with the Manual mode.
5. Wait for the right moment to happen
Now you’re be finally ready to go. But are you really? Just because you’re ready doesn’t mean the photography location is ready for you. The right light, the right cloud, the right moment might simply not be there yet. My only advice here is – if you have the time, stick to what you want to shoot and then…wait. The timing is of course crucial and decides about you going home with a spectacular photograph or an average photograph. And unfortunately, the time to wait for the magic to happen is often what we lack when travelling.
It is very different if you’re on a dedicated photography trip though – there you simply take as much time as you need because doing some good photography is your ultimate goal. Here’s a test of your passion and patience – go for a short trip to a place you know, find a composition and then wait for the right moment. Try that out and you’ll see the difference!