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How to take better photographs when on your travels

How to take better photographs when on your travels - David Taylor is a full-time photographer who specialises in landscape and travel photography. Here he tells ePHOTOzine why your holiday snaps should feature more than just your sister falling in the pool.

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Category : Landscape and Travel
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Prague by David TaylorAs a teenager David Taylor wanted to be a cartoonist not a photographer but it's his artistic side that did eventually bring him to the trade.

"It was only in sixth-form when a kind art teacher loaned me a camera to try that my interest in photography really took root. I managed to break the camera within a day of borrowing it, but by then I was hooked. My parents bought me my first (film) SLR not long afterwards so I was free then to break my own equipment, which I've managed to do intermittently since."

In 2006, after 18 years working as a graphic artist, David decided to take up photography full-time and two years on his career in landscape and travel photography is still going strong.

photograph by David Taylor"I'm not a burly backwoodsman type by any stretch of the imagination but I've always enjoyed being outdoors. Landscape and travel photography appeal for this reason.

His love for landscape and travel photography often overlap with the speed he works at only separating the two types of photography.

"A street scene is a still a landscape just a manufactured one," explained David.

For David, travel photography is often intense, fast work and it's easy to fill several memory cards during a days shoot. Taking several cards with you is always a good idea. If you only take one large card out and you lose it all of your images will be lost too.

Another skill that crosses over from landscape photography is the ability to get up early.

"Seeing a city or town before the tourists arrive, when there's just you and the milkman roaming the streets is strangely beguiling."

Avoiding the midday sun is a good idea and the low sun of an early morning creates a flattering light. You will see great shadows, interesting textures and if you manage to capture a portrait at that hour it will have a warm glow. Early morning or late sun can transform a scene that looks flat and uninspiring at midday.

Photograph by David Taylor"In cities dusk can be a magical time, when the street lights are lit and there's just enough light in the sky to provide some colour."

When in a foreign country it can be easy to get carried away. While sunsets are nice taking too many is not a good idea and so isn't taking the stereotypical shots of iconic places that everyone else takes.

"You don't have to not go to the iconic places as they're iconic for a reason, either because they are so beautiful or thought provoking. I don't think I'd want to give up the chance to see the Taj Mahal if I was in the area, but I'd still be interested to see the countryside and towns around it too."

You can make the familiar places unfamiliar by photographing them in an unfamiliar way. Back away from the traditional camera perspectives and create a striking image that is guaranteed to hold the viewer's attention.

"There must be countless images of the Eiffel Tower shot each year, the trick is finding a viewpoint that no-one else has spotted. It's astonishingly difficult but it is possible - and I'd be happy to try and prove it if anyone is prepared to fly me to Paris for the weekend!"

Don't forget the places you are visiting (unless it's the north pole) will be full of people. Tourists and local residents can all make interesting subjects for your travel work. Jut remember to be polite and respectful to the people you are photographing. Sometimes you can capture them without even knowing but generally you should ask if you want to photograph someone. If you see a shot you think will be perfect don't be afraid to approach people and ask them if they mind you taking it even if there's a language barrier a nice smile and a friendly approach will help you out.

Photograph of a child by David Taylor
Photograph of older man by David Taylor

"The thing I've learnt in the past few years is that travel is so much more rewarding when a connection is made, and that can only come from making an attempt to talk to people. A friendly smile and a few well-chosen words - it's amazing how far learning the local words for please and tMan in a hat by David Taylorhank you can get you."

A portrait is all in the eyes. A photograph with someone staring back at the viewer will always grab attention. A clean, sharp focus on the eyes and a tight frame around the subject will help you make the subject the centre of attention.

"After all We're programmed to respond to eye contact even when those eyes are two-dimensional representations on a screen or in a print," said David.

Planning is important for good travel pictures. Deciding where you want to visit and knowing sunrise and sunset times will help you create good pictures with light that is sympathetic to the subject. If you're in a particular place for more than a day you can also visit a site on several occasions at different times of day to see what time and from what angle your subject will look its best. Of course not everything can be planned and the quirky, unrepeatable moments that occur can turn out to be one of the best images you have taken on your trip.

"At the Pyramids in Giza I was listening to a guide describe the history of the area, but became distracted by a perfect shot. It's a view of one of the many souvenir kiosks in the area, but it was only when I had the film processed later that I realised that everyone and everything in the shot was looking at the pyramid, even the pottery cats that lined the stall. I never did hear the end of the talk about history of the pyramids. I guess I'll just have to go back and take the tour again!"Pyramids at Giza by David Taylor

For David colour is very important for his travel work as he feels it defines the mood of the picture. A polariser filter is a tool you can use to make the colours more saturated. It also reduces non-metallic reflections which makes the scene look more punchy.

"It can be overused, but I'd never leave home without one," explained David.

Composition is very important as a dull composition will not hold the viewers attention. An image which is composed well should draw the viewer into the image and hold their attention. Encapsulate the feel of the place you are in. Let the viewers imagination create the smell of the air, the sounds and the scene you witnessed.

To create a perfect travel shot you need a sharp and steady image and to do this David always uses a tripod.

Photograph by David Taylor"I'm still a great believer in the use of tripods. They're cumbersome to carry around and set-up, but the benefit of providing a stable base for the camera outweighs these drawbacks."

Sometimes it isn't practical to take a tripod out with you, particularly when your visiting a busy, hectic place like a market. In these situations David recommends you use shutter priority to keep the shutter speed high enough to avoid camera shake and use the auto focus option to keep the subject sharp. Whenever it's practical David also tries to use the lowest ISO setting possible to minimise noise.

"Typically I would use ISO100 or 200. That said, a noisy but still usable image is better than no image at all, so I'm prepared to shoot at ISO1600 if the occasion demands and worry about noise reduction later."

David uses a Canon EOS 1DS Mark II and his lens choices mainly sit with two favourites.

"As a walk around lens I use my 50mm f/1.4 lens a lot. It's fast and I like the angle of view, I see ‘50mm' shots more easily than any other focal length. That said I do also use a 17-40mm zoom, which is useful for those I need a very wide-angle lens to get everything in moments."

Packing for travel means packing light. While a light weight tripod can be easily packed into a case David always packs his camera, a small selection of lenses, neutral density filters, a polariser and a data-storage device into his carry-on bag.

"A good book is also something you should pack if it's going to be a long journey!"

If you take a book with you make it a guide book as these will generally tell you the areas of a city or country to avoid and once you arrive at your destination be aware of what's happening around you, particularly if you're in a busy street.

Prague by Daivd Taylor"It's so easy to get wrapped up in the moment and lose track of what's going on outside the narrow zone in front of you that you're currently focussing on," said David.

Even though David tries to get everything right in camera inevitably there is always some post-production work to do when he returns home. Removing dust and altering the contrast and white balance are what his attentions are usually focused on.

"I do constantly repeat to myself that a minute in front of a computer screen is one minute fewer spent being outside shooting. It's a good incentive!"

A lot of David's work is available in various stock libraries and he's also had a lot of work featured in travel and photography magazines.

"Combining an interest in creating images and having a perfect excuse to get out of the office is great!"

More of David's work is available for viewing at David Taylor.

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