Technique Feature

Top Travel Photography Tips

with Tom Franklin de Waart

Going on your first travel photography trip can be an intimidating prospect. Photographer Tom Franklin de Waart offers some words of advice.

Before you even set off on your journey, make sure you go through a list of key things. This is incredibly important and will ensure you come back with the shots you want. There are a few things to think about, such as the season, time of day, light, direction, people, safety and more.

I tend to go through multiple steps before I come to my final travel photos. Here it is in a few steps.

‘Might Gods Waterfall’

1. Make sure you’re going at the right time

Put some time into looking at the best season for your destination. Will you actually get to see the places in the way you want? I have a good example of a mistake I made: I went to Myanmar in the rainy season and quickly found out there is no proper sunset when it rains. There are also no balloons at the time of year, a popular subject for any travel photographer. From then on, I began keeping an agenda at home with the locations I want to travel to with the perfect seasons written beside them.

‘South Iceland’

2. Think about the kinds of locations you’re attracted to

I’m in love with landscapes and I love to shoot locations that are less popular than others. But at the same time, I’m adding lots of photos to my portfolio of places where millions of photographers have been because I get to see them with my own eyes. The fun part is making your own interpretation on a landscape.

If you see a killer shot of another photographer, save it! You’ve got try to shoot the same photo and make a better version of it. But keep in mind you have to make the mistakes as well or else you won’t learn. Try to capture it in a different way; use natural framing and be creative. The rules of photography are good to know but you have to train your eye. Stand still at the location and try to scout a different approach. I use and Google Maps to find the viewpoints where I’m shooting from.

‘Hong Kong Kowloon Bay’

3. Note when the sun rises and sets

What time is sunrise and sunset? There is an amazing app for it called The Photographers’ Ephemeris, a great app showing you everything from first lighting and even moonrise/sets (for night photography). With this app, you can also look ahead in time to check on the date you’ll be there. Make sure you get there at least 45mins early before so you won’t be missing out.

‘Monks at Sunset – Myanmar’

4. Plan how to get there

Transportation is very important too. How are you going to get there? By foot, by taxi, rent a car; or is your wanted photo shot from a plane or helicopter? Have a think before you go because some stuff you have to book in advance.

‘Car Trails Canyon – Los Angeles’

5. Think about your lens choice

What lens are you going to use? I’ll always carry lenses ranging from 14mm to 200mm. Also, to get the shot that you want, sometimes you need a fast lens, so I make sure all my lenses are f/2.8 or faster.

‘Dutch Windmills’

6. Be aware of the weather

Again, check the weather. You don’t want to get caught in a blizzard or rainstorm. I always carry protective weatherproof covers for my gear and myself since I travel a lot in Asia. That means I’m prepared for any random rainstorms.

‘Moody Hikes – Honolulu’

7. Be mindful when taking portraits

I love taking travel portraits when I’m on the move, especially when it’s of people with a lot of character. 90% of the time, people are fine with me taking a photo of them. However, I would never do it secretly without them noticing. Many of the people I photograph are elderly or kids. Since they normally don’t pose for your photo, you want to capture something unique. Try to make them smile or have a conversation and take a photo as you guys chat.

‘Padaung Lady’

8. Be aware of your position within their society

If you want somebody’s photo, don’t be afraid to approach them and point to your camera. But be ready to pay them a little bit of money in exchange for their kindness. Don’t be the person that just walks away – that’s just mean. If you want somebody’s photo, don’t be afraid to approach them and point to your camera. Once you have your image, consider paying them a little bit of money in exchange for their kindness. The same applies to children – I'll carry some toys on me to thank them for their time.

‘Louis Mendes – New York’

9. Don’t be afraid of the language barrier

You don’t have to struggle with the language barrier since everybody smiles in the same language, and a smile will go a long way. In a lot of countries, I find people very hospitable if they see you’re a tourist. Don’t shy away if they invite you over for food or a drink – that is your time to shine! I had a family in Sri Lanka show me the whole neighbourhood and make breakfast for me without expecting anything in return. Regardless, you should offer them a bit of money as thanks.

‘Smoking Cigars – Myanmar’

10. Be aware of the kit you’re carrying

My camera and lenses of choice are as follows:

• Nikon D750 and Nikon D850

• Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8

• Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 VR

• Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 G2

• For travel portraits I love to use my Nikkor 50mm F1.4

• DJI Mavic Pro and a GoPro

Because I hike a lot with heavy gear, I’m never actually traveling light because I’m just too afraid of missing out on that one incredible shot. However, I do try to drop some weight in the place where I’m staying, such as my hard drives, computer and other stuff not needed during the photography itself.

‘In Decay – Iceland’

11. If you can, travel light

If you’re doing photography more for the fun of it, I would recommend you travel light. Try to find yourself a nice all-round lens, maybe an 18-300mm. For me, however, I travel to make good photos, so I care more about the quality of the photo and the effort that has been put in. But everybody is different so don’t think you have to do the same thing as me.

‘I Got the Sun in my Pocket and the Sun in my Hands – Sri Lanka’

12. Keep yourself safe

Safety is of primary importance and that’s why my family always knows where I’m traveling. My girlfriend is aware where I am 24/7 and knows what I am up to. I carry a wifi device on me so I’m always able to use internet or else buy a local sim card. If you are planning to do an extreme climb like the Himalayas or somewhere in an area where no services are close by, make sure you plan your route on a map and give a copy to someone you trust with a final time when you expect to be back. If there is wildlife out and about, don’t go out without a local guide who is familiar with the area and dangers. A photo can change your life but don’t let it change it in a bad way.

‘Indonesian Watefalls’

13. Keep your kit safe

Try to find out about the safety for tourists in your chosen location but also don’t just go out and about with your camera at night. I tend to change my Nikon camera strap to a plain one and put a black sticker on the logo so people don’t see it. In case something happens, make sure you got your travel and camera insurance all locked in. In the end, your safety is most important so just cooperate with bad people and give them your stuff. Then handle it off afterwards with the police and the insurance company.

Having said all that, don’t forget to have fun while you make photos and make sure you show the world your photographs!

‘Walking on a Mirror – Iceland’

To see more of Tom's images

To see more of Tom's images

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