T+L's Best Travel Photography Tips 2009
Our photo editors’ advice on the best cameras for taking travel photos—and how to get that winning shot.
There’s no better way to remember a trip than through pictures. But too often those pictures don’t come out to our satisfaction. Why is that castle out of focus? Where is the amazing beach I thought I snapped? What’s with that devilish red glare in people’s eyes?
Happily for trip-taking shutterbugs, the path to better travel photos is clearer than ever. Digital cameras are more convenient and reliable, with different models geared for all skill levels and needs. T+L’s photo editors test-drove the latest cameras and found many worthwhile options—though they do have their strengths and weaknesses.
In the lower-price category, the Nikon Coolpix S220 ($150) turned out to be great for outdoor shots and close-ups. The drawback: it wasn’t the best at capturing nighttime images. The Kodak EasyShare M380, which goes for $180, is a good choice as an all-around camera for active amateurs taking simple snapshots, day or night, as the settings are automatic. The LCD screen is a bit small, though.
Want your machine with a few more bells and whistles? The Olympus Stylus Tough-8000, at $380, is waterproof and freezeproof, making it a highly recommended camera for those taking pix in the great outdoors. When the light is low, though, some fiddling with the camera’s modes is necessary to ensure good results—which hampers spontaneity. At an even higher level of complexity and price, the $730 Nikon D5000 turned out to be a boon for recreational photographers who prefer to shoot in automatic but want to take higher-quality images. The model has fairly accurate internal meters, and the F-stop and speed settings are embedded.
After you pick out the camera that’s best for you, the next step is basic technique. Follow T+L’s easy tips and you’re sure to be happier with your photographic results. To take those tricky portraits of people in the sun, for instance, try using a daytime flash. Not only will this brighten the shadowy areas within the frame, it will help the subject pop out more.
The very best way to improve, of course, is to place yourself in the hands of an expert. We’ve compiled a list of photographer-led tours that take travelers to picture-worthy locations and teach them how best to capture the sights with a camera. For instance, National Geographic photographer Mark Thiessen takes a group to Washington, D.C., and imparts basic composition techniques among the monuments. For a more far-flung adventure, veteran lensman George Ritchey takes guests to the Galápagos, to snap action shots of blue-footed boobies and other exotic animals.
Read on for more quick hints on how to create great mementos of your next trip. Happy shooting!
Travel Photography Tip 1: Try a Daytime Flash
If you’re taking portraits in the sun, turn the flash on. Not only will this brighten any shadowy areas, but it will also make the subject pop in the frame. Professional photographers often use this trick at the beach.
Travel Photography Tip 2: Use a Low-Light Setting
When shooting after dark, switch to the night setting, which makes the camera’s sensor more sensitive to light. Before taking the picture, place the camera on a steady surface to help prevent a blurry shot.
Travel Photography Tip 3: Get Up Close
Always ask permission before shooting a subject. Having a conversation beforehand will help the person relax and may actually allow you to catch more spontaneous images.
Travel Photography Tip 4: Snap the World in Motion
Set your camera to a slower shutter speed (between a 30th to a 60th of a second) and ask your subject to stand still in front of a moving background (or do the opposite); the contrast can be powerful.
Travel Photography Tip 5: Find an Unusual Vantage Point
Whether it’s shooting down from the top of a building, from the side of a monument, or up from the bottom of a staircase, find a unique or elevated spot to see a classic scene from a new and surprising perspective. It adds depth to an image and is a great way to convey the overall feel of the place.
Travel Photography Tip 6: Look For Humor
Many photographers make careers out of capturing funny moments. Pay attention to what’s happening around popular tourist sites—there’s often comedy in the tension between the iconic and the pedestrian.
Digital Point + Shoot Camera: Nikon Coolpix S220, $150
“This lightweight 10-megapixel camera takes great outdoor shots and close-ups, as long as there’s enough natural light. But I wouldn’t use it at night: the image quality is poor in low light, and the flash takes a long time to charge.” —Lily Becker, assistant photo editor
Digital Point + Shoot Camera: Kodak EasyShare M380, $180
“This is a great all-around camera. It’s perfect for simple snapshots, whether you’re shooting during the day or in the evening, since the settings are automatic. The biggest drawbacks are a small LCD screen and limited zoom for video.” —Jessica Schwartzberg, assistant photo editor
Digital Point + Shoot Camera: Olympus Stylus Tough-8000, $380
“Water- and freeze-proof, this 12-megapixel lives up to its name. The best part? It takes sharp underwater photos. Low-light scenes produce blurry images, however. There’s a mode to offset this, but if you want to capture a moment, you may lose your shot.” —Whitney Lawson, deputy photo editor
Digital Point + Shoot Camera: Sony Cyber-Shot W230, $200
“While the Sony lacks a viewfinder (the window you look through to compose the image), this model makes up for it with other features: the screen is large and it counts down how many shots you have left based on the file size.” —Jessica Schwartzberg, assistant photo editor
Semi-Pro + Professional Level Camera: Nikon D5000, $730
“Recreational photographers who prefer to shoot in automatic but want to take higher-quality images should consider this Nikon. The internal meters are fairly accurate, and most settings, such as F-stop and speed, are already embedded. Plus, it’s not too heavy, and unlike previous models, it allows you to close the LCD screen when you’re not using it.” —Lily Becker, assistant photo editor
Semi-Pro + Professional Level Camera: Canon Eos Rebel T1I, $799
“If you’re looking to upgrade from a point-and-shoot to an easy-to-use DSLR, this 15.1-megapixel model is a good option. It provides excellent color saturation, has a wide LCD viewing screen, and switches comfortably back and forth between manual and auto, which made it fun to experiment with while scouting in New York City.” —Jessica Schwartzberg, assistant photo editor
Semi-Pro + Professional Level Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, $2,700
“This camera is not for amateurs, and with the hefty price tag, it’s a serious investment. But when it comes to battery life and image quality, the camera is the best in its class. I love how it captures scenes with mixed light and fires repeatedly without delay. It includes a 21-megapixel sensor and HD video.” —Whitney Lawson, deputy photo editor
Photo Tour: Washington, D.C.
National Geographic photographer Mark Thiessen leads you on a photo adventure through the nation’s capital, from the National Mall to the Adams Morgan neighborhood, where you’ll learn basic composition techniques. National Geographic Expeditions; October 29–November 1; nationalgeographicexpeditions.com; from $508 per day, per person, double, including hotel.
Photo Tour: Galápagos
George Ritchey, a veteran wildlife photographer, teaches guests how to snap action shots of fauna, from giant tortoises to blue-footed boobies. International Expeditions; April 30–May 9; ietravel.com; from $4,798 per person, double.
Photo Tour: Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia
Travelers test their shooting skills in the streets, markets, and temples of cities such as Hoi An and Luang Prabang with the help of expert Ben Willmore. Wilderness Travel; November 29–December 12; wildernesstravel.com; from $6,295 per person, double.
Photo Tour: Kenya and Tanzania
Husband-and-wife photo team Jack and Rikki Swenson take you to the iconic parks of Masai Mara and the Serengeti, as well as the less-visited Samburu Game Reserve. Micato Safaris; February 4–18; micato.com; $15,490 per person, double.