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MatadorU will teach you the skills you need to become a travel journalist.

Photo by photog-raph

UNLESS YOU’RE A PROFESSIONAL travel photographer on an expedition-style assignment, chances are you’re not dragging boxes of equipment around on your travels. Throwing filters, tripods, remote flash, and other equipment into the mix can be quite daunting for the novice photographer traveling with limited space.

But for those interested in doing more with their travel photographs besides sharing great memories with family, here are a few essential tips to get you started on that road.

Go digital

I remember glaring at the Aurora Borealis on a frigid winter night in Iceland and marveling at the continental divide the next day, knowing I’d captured it all on film. I also remember my look of bewilderment and helplessness when the clerk handed seven blank rolls of film back to me – which most likely had been damaged by the airport’s x-ray machine. I’ve been a digital photography convert ever since.

Besides fast shutter technology, instant gratification, and enough space limited only by memory card size, the advantages of Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) photography are numerous.

With a flick of a dial or press of a button to change settings, you can shoot rapid action shots or serene landscapes within seconds. In the past, this involved switching out film with the right type of speed to get the best shots or using multiple purpose film which rarely produced the desired effects.

Photographer Ryan Libre explores why buying a DSLR may be worth it for your travel photography.

Once you’ve decided to switch technologies and purchase a digital SLR, be sure to invest equal time in learning the controls and settings of your camera.

Photo by law_keven

Pick your lens wisely

Lenses are the single most expensive and important gear you should invest in outside the body of your camera.

Memorizing and fully understand technical terminology such as focal length, aberration, barrel distortion, angle of view, and rectilinear are enough to deter novices from moving to the next level of photography.

However, understanding lenses need not be complicated. There are a myriad of lenses out there but the three common ones are: Wide-Angle (great for landscapes), Telephoto (great for portraits), and Zoom (great for snapping lions from a safe distance).

While most digital SLR cameras come with classic telephoto lenses which are great for depth of field photographs and portraits, most professional photographers use wide-angle lenses. These types of lens pull you right into the middle of the action, and cover a lot more field of view.

Macro lenses get you right up close to that caterpillar chewing a leaf, while Fisheye lenses give you the illusion of staring through the peephole of a door.

According to All Things Photography which provides a solid introduction to camera lenses, “…a quality lens will last….cameras come and go!”

Photo by ^riza^

Stock up on memory

Fast shutter speeds mean you can easily amass hundreds of photographs in a single day. Having extra memory cards provide you with more flexibility without having to delete older pictures to make room for newer ones in the field.

The most popular cards are SanDisk 2GB SD memory cards which can be bought for as low as $6.81, a 92% drop from its original price of $89.99.

If you envision snapping a couple thousand photographs during your travels, I would suggest buying 1G to 2G cards so you can space out your photographs in the event that you lose your camera or a card. This allows you to accrue the least amount of image loss.

Make sure you store your photography safely once your travels are over.

Learn a few basic editing tips

While using certain polarizing and UV filters can help adjust composition in the field, remember you’re still contemplating whether or not to take travel photography more seriously as a hobby. Also, investing in the latest photo processing software may be overkill at this stage.

Instead, consider Free Photo Editing Software to enhance your travel photography.

By learning a few editing tips such as adjusting contrast, lighting, and saturation, you can improve the visual impact of your photographs.

The example below illustrates before (left) and after (right) results of increasing contrast in a simple landscape photograph.

As you become more comfortable with working your base equipment and minor editing, you can begin including add-on gear such as filters as well as shooting images in a RAW image format so you can fully post-process them later.

Get a sturdy bag

Digital SLR cameras are much heavier than your classic point-and-shot cameras, and as such, are more difficult to carry around and conceal.

Photo by babasteve

While most cameras come with the heavy duty black cases that let everyone know you’re carrying a camera, you could consider investing in a bag that not only protects your equipment from the elements, but also protects it from potential theft and allows you to move more freely.

Bags such as the Vituri Fashion SLR Camera Bag (also available in rugged brown for guys at Wal-Mart for almost 50% off) look great, are sturdy, and camouflage you as a traveler.

Check out more Cool, Funky & Unique Camera Bags.

For more on getting started, Google provides a great list of Digital Photography 101 resources.

*Get access to paid freelance travel photography jobs and an active community of travel journalists through the travel photography program from MatadorU.

About The Author

Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström

Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström is a MatadorU faculty member and Network contributor. Her work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Vogue, BBC, Fodors.com, and many more. Follow her photoblog at Sweden.se.

  • http://www.collazoprojects.com Julie

    Lola- Another great and solid piece! Thanks so much.

  • http://www.startbackpacking.com Greg

    In regards to #2, if you are shooting Nikon I highly recommend their 18-200VR lens….the range is decent enough for landscapes and 200mm is good enough to get up close on people from a distance, catching them more “natural”. The Vibration Reduction is great for not having to use a battery draining flash.

    If you’re backpacking and need to just travel with one lens, this does the trick. At $850 its not terribly cheap however and their used to be a waiting list.

    Oh yeah, beware of all the NYC based online photo shops (at the top of all Google ads) that advertise it extremely cheap, when you call to place the order they will tell you that the price listed is for the “plastic” mount which is out of stock, and will try to sell you an upgrade…its a scam, there is no plastic mount!

  • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola Akinmade

    Julie – Thanks!

    Greg – Great advice on the 18-200VR.

  • http://www.nearandfar.wordpress.com felicia

    Hello Lola!

    Thank you once again for a great post!
    I am now a published photographer and writer here in Seoul, South Korea and will announce a a great experience that lead to being published in this summer’s must have book for those who love design!

    I am trying to find a great school to study travel photographer or just photography in general somewhere in Europe or Asia.

    Would you know of any good schools, universities?

    I know that the South of France is famous for certain schools and I am researching that but if you or anyone else knows of a great school where I could study for a year or two, please share that info with me.

    Thank you!

    Felicia
    http://www.nearandfar.wordpress.com
    felicia369ny@yahoo.com

  • http://www.lolaakinmade.com Lola Akinmade

    Felicia – Will be contacting you offline :)

  • Johnny Dawson

    Hi, I’m sorry for saying this but you are clearly an amateur. Zoom lenses are just lenses that zoom, they can be from 18-55mm which is not long at all, and telephoto are typically just long zooms. Pros dont typically use wide lenses, they use what is appropriate for the picture. And you added way too much contrast to that photo.

    Here is a good beginner system:
    Nikon D40, D40x, D60, D5000, D3000, they are all the smallest DSLRs Nikon makes, they are all good. I suggest the D40x and up not because more pixels make the pictures better, but so that you can crop if need be.

    18-55mm VR Nikon kit lens- great lens, 90% of what you need

    55-200mm VR Nikon, around $200 and very good

    35mm VR f/1.8 for low-light pictures, around $200

    SB-400 flash, around $110, much better than in-camera flash

    get a circular polarizer for cloudy days, or very sunny days, they increase contrast and prevent glare from dulling photos, you will need 55mm sized ones, and get a UV filter- all these lenses take the same size filter so you only need to get one of each

    get a decent bag too

    and get a 4 GB SD card, you can get any brand, any capacity, but its worth getting at least a 4GB because they are so cheap now.

    Thanks, and sorry for being critical, its just true.

  • Edward Dron

    Great article. Thank you Lola for the useful tips.

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