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Travel photography - tips for beginners

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Category: Landscape and Travel

Travel photography - tips for beginners - Alex Hinds explains what kit you need and how you should go about taking travel photos.

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For many photographers holidays and travel provide unparalleled opportunities and inspiration. As a keen photographer and traveller I've been combining the two for years. However although the activities can seem perfect companions my experience has shown me it is wise to give your photography some thought before travelling.

When I first started travelling I happily packed nearly every bit of camera gear I could lay my hands on. Over the years the amount of kit I take has gradually shrunk until, on my last backpacking trip, I carried only an old Konica rangefinder camera. Although it was frustrating sometimes, seeing pictures I needed my SLR and telephoto lens to create, the discipline of working with a fixed 38mm lens actually improved some of my work.

The rangefinder, being small and very quiet was perfect for backpacking and unobtrusive photography. The choice of kit is a difficult one and on this occasion I'd sacrificed photo flexibility in the interests of travelling light. For many trips a well put together 35mm kit of a couple of bodies and two or three lenses makes a good compromise between equipment and weight. I use the old manual Olympus kit which as well as being tough is relatively small too. It all packs away into a scruffy old army satchel which doesn't shout - steal me - when you are out and about.

Every extra bit of kit you pack is another weight to carry. So think how much you'll really use it. Tripods, in my experience, are not worth their weight and size, unless you know you are going to need it. Remember the little things like spare batteries and cleaning cloths.

The choice of film stock for me is dependent on whether or not you want to try and get your images published. If you do it really has to be slide film, and that generally means Kodak or Fuji products, or black and white perhaps if you're going for more of a reportage style of work. It's best to get your film at home to avoid the need to buy questionable stock from guys selling it out of briefcases under a blazing sun.

Personally I've never worried overly about the effects of x-ray machines on film and not had any problems with them. Although you're usually entitled to ask for a hand search you wont make yourself popular by doing so. Unless you expect to be passing through a large number of machines I would only bother if the machine looked particularly old and lethal.

On recent trips I've met an increasing number of travellers using only a digital camera. This removes the need to carry film but limits you to the number of pictures your camera can store unless you carry a laptop too. With a spare memory chip and some on the road editing they seemed to be managing well to get the shots they wanted. If you want the pictures for your own use only or publication on the web digital cameras are now well worth considering as an alternative to using a compact camera.

Whatever kit you choose to take and wherever you go I would urge you to try and get up early as much as you can. Many of my best pictures have been shot when I've got up before dawn and gone out for a couple of hours to watch and photograph a place waking up. You can then return to the hotel having had a satisfying morning of photography and ready to enjoy the rest of the day. Because unless you're a full time professional, photography is not usually the only, or even main, reason for a trip. This may particularly be so for your companions! It's no fun for partners, kids and friends if you are constantly staring through a viewfinder looking to capture a moment. So remember to take a break and enjoy the moment with them.

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