Travel Photography Tips from a Full Time Traveler


I get a lot of questions about my photography, so I thought I’d try and answer them all in one big post. This is a summary of what I do and how I do it.

Experience

I get a lot of comments along the likes of “You are a really good photographer”. Here is the dirty secret….I knew nothing of photography before I started this trip. Nothing. Like everyone else I owned a point and click camera, but that was the extent of it. I didn’t know what ISO was, I didn’t know what SLR meant, I didn’t know one lens from another.

I’ve never taken a class on photography and what little I do know came about from reading websites and taking lots and lots of photos. I estimate I’ve clicked the shutter on my camera close to 10,000 times since my trip has started. I wish I could go back and re-shoot many of the things I saw early on in my trip, because I just didn’t know what the hell I was doing with my camera.

Over the last year, I’ve learned a great deal and I have taken some photographs that I’m pretty proud of, but I still only consider myself about half way on the way to becoming a really good photographer. I need to learn more about how to correctly measure light and adjust settings to so I can get the best photograph without having to guess and take a shotgun approach to my photos. I still make a lot of dumb mistakes which I only realize after I’m viewing them on my laptop. My eye has gotten better, but I still take a lot of bad photos which no one sees.

I get a lot of people who ask me “are you a photographer” when they seem me out and about with my gear. I used to provide a lengthy answer about “no, I really just have a blog and I take a lot of photos, yadda yadda yadda“. My new answer to that question is, “yes”. It goes much quicker and is becoming more true everyday.

Gear

I use a Nikon D200 as my camera. I purchased a small Sony T-100 in Taiwan for carrying in my pocket and smaller Sadly, I lost it on the bus from Busan to Gyeongju in South Korea. That really made me mad for about three days, because when you only have a bag of stuff to call your own, you tend to keep close track of everything you have. That camera was my biggest loss of the trip so far. (my other losses being a Leatherman in Rarotonga and hats in Guam and Taipei respectively.)

I have two lenses I use with my D200: an 18-200mm Nikon VR (vibration reduction) lens for most things, and a 12-24mm Nikon lens for wide angle photos which I purchased in Honolulu. Weight is a huge consideration for me given how I’m traveling, so carrying more than two lenses is out of the question, especially if another lens were bigger than my 200mm.

I got my camera cleaned in Melbourne. I don’t know if it was necessary, but I figure after a year on the road it was probably needed.

I have a shutter release cable which I picked up in Auckland. I use that for attempting any HDR or long exposure photos. I also have a Manfroto carbon fiber tripod I got in Los Angeles. I haven’t used the tripod in a while. I find it only worth using for certain types of shots, in particular HDR and long exposure night time photos. The head is a really nice Manfroto ball head which weighs more than the tripod. It lets me set up on any sort of surface without worrying about making the legs level. I have shoes for both my SLR and my video camera, so I can use my tripod for both.

In Melbourne, I also purchased a Joby Gorillapod which i can use as a lightweight tripod for my video camera or my SLR. It doesn’t really replace a real tripod, but it works in a pinch. I wish I had it when I visited Mulu. I could have taken much better photos in the cave if I had any sort of tripod.

My camera bag is nice, but it is falling apart and honestly too big for what I need. I have replaced it with a smaller shoulder bag that I can fit inside a larger backpack. I haven’t been able to use it out and about yet.

I have a spare battery for the camera which is invaluable. I’ve had many times where I had to whip out the second battery. I also have a UV filter for each lens and a cross polar and a neutral density graduated filter for my 18-200 lens.

My video camera is a small Sanyo HD1000, I purchased it in Hong Kong. I purchased it because it saves directly to flash memory instead of using tape. This greatly simplifies my work flow for getting video online. The quality of the camera is probably a notch below my previous one, but it is much easier to work with and carry around.

Processing

The biggest issue for me is how to store my images. Most people can just stock up on memory cards if they are only going to be traveling for a few weeks. I don’t have that luxury. I’ve done a few things to get around that problem.

I shoot all my photos in RAW. This makes for big files to work with, but I have enough storage. I have a 4gb compact flash memory card in my camera which lets me shoot 214 photos in RAW. I also have a cheap 2gb compact flash card I carry with me I picked up at the checkout counter at MicroCenter for $15. There have been a few occasions I needed to dip into the second memory card. I usually download everything to my laptop the evening after I shoot. In addition to my laptop, I have a small 160gb external, firewire hard drive I use for storage. As of the time of writing, I have about 4gb left on the hard drive. That includes all my photos taken on the trip except for Hawaii, which are all on Flickr.

Recently, I purchased an online storage plan with ElephantDrive.com. It gives me basically storage for only $10/month. The big problem I have with it is that it is very hard to upload files. It doesn’t use FTP and when I upload, it tends to suck up whatever remaining space I have on my laptop hard drive. I’ve not been able to upload a good chunk of my photos because of problems with uploading. The problems existed in both Korea and Hong Kong, which are places with very good bandwidth. (If anyone from ElephantDrive should pick this post up via Technorati, I’m more that willing to accept technical help…hint, hint) I have also noticed that photos I previously uploaded now all seem to have a file size of 0k. I was going to delete the files I uploaded from my external drive and now I’m glad I didn’t. There just doesn’t seem to be a good storage solution to saving RAW files on the road other than burning them to DVD.

I review my photos on my laptop and then select ones to open in Photoshop. Every photo which makes it to Flickr has to go through Photoshop if for no other reason than converting from RAW to jpeg. For the most part, there are only three things I do (or know how to do) to manipulate images. I will rotate the image a few degrees to make it level. (I have a bad habit of tilting my camera 1-2 degrees to the left.) I will crop the image if it is needed, and then I will usually adjust the shadows a bit if parts are too dark.

My laptop has gotten quite dirty. I have lots of specks on my screen which I am unable to remove. This sometimes causes problems when I’m looking at a photos because I can’t tell if it is a problem with the photo or with my screen.

Getting proper lighting is the biggest thing I have problems with. Unlike professional photographers, I take photos when I happen to be at a place instead of scheduling when I’ll go to a place to take photos. Many of the best photos are taken at sunset or sunrise. I’m never up at sunrise and usually not anywhere worthwhile at sunset. I try to take the best photos I can while I’m there, but I don’t arrange my schedule around taking photos. Many of the places I go aren’t open at either sunset or sunrise, so it is a moot point.

I seldom use Photoshop effects or tone mapping just to make an image look artsy. I don’t know how and I don’t really have the time or the equipment. I save everything I shoot so in theory I could go back and doctor up some photos when I’m done traveling, or let someone else do it.

After I’ve done all that, I will save in the highest quality JPG setting and then upload to Flickr.

I’m really torn about using Flickr. From a strict photo storage and quality stand point, they are not the best photo hosting service. However, they are by far the best service when it comes to sharing photos with others. I have a Flickr Pro account and the $20 annual fee is one of the best deals on the internet. That $20 gives me unlimited storage and bandwidth.

Display

Currently, Flickr and this website are the only places my photos are displayed. I’ll eventually be creating three different websites for people to download desktop wallpapers, MySpace themes and iPhone wallpapers. These will be all advertising driven and shouldn’t require a lot of work once it is up and running. I’ve keep this site pretty much ad free save for running some experiments with Google Adsense. I’d like to keep this site ad free, and having other sites should let me continue to do that.

I used to submit my photos to groups on Flickr, but for the most part I have stopped doing that. It take a lot of time and there really isn’t much payback for the effort.

I’m also going to start a site where I can sell prints and other items with my photos. I have no idea how I’m going to set that up yet. I might use another photo service like SmugMug and let them take care of everything. I’ll just upload the best of the best to that site. I might also take the original RAW files of my best photos and rework them with Photoshop.

I created a calendar for Christmas for my family. So far, it is the only things I’ve had printed with my photos on it. From what I’ve been told, it turned out well.

Learning

I subscribe to several photography websites and listen to a few photography podcasts. I usually learn something new every week. My current favorite podcast is This Week in Photography. I read Digital Photography School and Ken Rockwell as well.

I think my photos are getting better. Much of the progress can only be seen by me, but I can tell when I look at my older photos. In the future, I need to work more on low light photos, action photos and photos of people. I tend to focus more on landscapes and building, because you don’t need to ask their permission.

  • 7 Comments... What's your take?

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Comments

  1. G@ttoGiallo says:

    The very big deal is to shoot beautiful things with a beautibul light and a good dig camera !!!
    Film cameras needed a deep knowledge…

  2. Laura says:

    Hey Gary! Digital Photography World is one of my favorite Photo Mags. It’s from the UK, you may have already seen it… but if not check it out. :)

  3. Jenny says:

    For all online backup, file sharing and storage related info, I recommend this website:

    http://www.BackupReview.info

  4. roland says:

    what kind of manfroto tripod do you own? i’m asking because i’ll start an 6 month trip in august and i don’t know yet what kind of tripod i should buy.

  5. Liz Handlin says:

    HI Gary,

    Love your blog. I check in to see where you have been about once a week and it feels almost like a mini-vacation every time I visit your site. Cant wait to see video in addition to your photos which are so beautiful! Thanks for taking the time to create a blog that we all enjoy so much.

    Liz

  6. Nicole says:

    Great read – I would have made a bet that you knew more when you started :D
    Yes, reshooting some locations or going there to begin with……tell me :(
    I love your shots that’s for sure!
    Keep up the good work!

    Would you mind (whenever there’s time) to share your favorite photowebsites with us?

  7. Carrie says:

    Well done! You mirror my thoughts exactly in your first two paragraphs. When I started blogging, I didn’t know anything about photography. I still don’t think I know much, but I can see that my photos have made a huge improvement over last year because I’ve traveled so much and used my cameras at every opportunity.

    I gather you are no longer stuck and you’re back on the road again, where you belong. Happy trails!

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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