Have you ever returned from a holiday with a camera full of disappointing shots? Every country in Asia has its own unique culture, history, landscapes, food and story to tell. For some, capturing these is easy, while for others it can be overwhelming and never seem to work out. Sydney-based photographer Michael Sutton shares some practical travel photography tips, particularly for using a smart phone rather than a camera. You will be shooting like a pro on your next Wendy Wu tour… without the need to buy expensive gear!
Before we get into the travel photography tips, let’s see some of Michael’s favourite photos he has taken travelling in Asia:
“I took this in Northern Thailand; it was on day one of a six-day private photo tour through the mountains of northwest Thailand. I snapped this inside Queen Sirikit (Mae Sa) Botanic Gardens in Chiang Mai. It was so colourful and beautiful.”
“This woman was over 100 years old and travels from her farm every day in a long boat along a river to sell her vegetables at the floating market.”
“I was at a train station in Thailand taking photos when these monks walked up off train tracks and along the platform. They follow the tracks each day to walk to their temple for their daily prayers.”
“The local monks walk along the beach every morning at sunrise to collect offerings of food from the public to take back to their temples.”
What is different about taking a photo in Asia as opposed to Australia?
We have very little street food in Australia. Street food and its vendors make for great street photography subjects. In addition, the people are nearly always smiling, very welcoming, and are usually happy to have their photo taken. There are many ancient and unique buildings to photograph; their landscape is different to ours (perhaps not as open and wide) but unique.
Travel photography tips time. How do you approach people for photos, especially if there is a language barrier?
The power of sign language and good manners helps! I always ask permission and smile. I hold up my camera, point to it and then to them. This usually gives them a good idea of what I want to do. I always take the time to thank them and show them the photo. You can offer to send them a copy but always make sure you follow through with any promises.
You also use your iPhone take photos. How do you find this different from using a camera?
Having one device in my pocket that acts as the camera/computer/internet makes the whole process so much easier. You do not have to lug around a huge camera bag full of expensive gear. With my iPhone I can take a photo, edit it in the phone and then share it with friends, family and my followers all over the within minutes. There are some great apps in iPhones now that make them really versatile and great travel photography cameras.
Could you share some of your travel photography tips using your iPhone?
- Before you leave, attend a workshop that teaches you how to take photos and edit them on your phone.
- Take an external portable battery charger with you so you can charge your phone while walking around.
- Download a few apps to edit your photos. They always look better when you tidy them up, straighten the horizon, crop that annoying object out, enhance or desaturate the colours a little.
- Before you leave home, clear as much space as possible on your phone so you don’t run out of memory right in the middle of the best moment you have ever seen!
Are there any helpful apps you would recommend?
Stick with the manufacturer’s photo app and download Snapseed. It’s a free app, easy to use for editing your photos and you can share images from it to Facebook and Instagram. Keep it simple for yourself.
It’s easy to spend all your time behind a camera while travelling. How do you find balance between taking photos and experiencing it all?
I’m not quite sure I’ve mastered that yet! My advice is to take only a few photos of the things that catch your eye. There’s no point taking hundreds of photos of the same thing, as you won’t look at them all.
I am constantly on the look for moments that I feel will make a great photo opportunity. Don’t take photos from the same angle as the group you’re with. Walk away and do your own thing (but make sure you aren’t lost or separated!). Don’t rush in – step back, take it all in and enjoy where you are. Take a video if you think a few photos aren’t enough. One of my biggest travel photography tips is to not miss moments editing – snap away and then use your time on the coach/plane/train to edit and share.
What’s the best entry-level camera?
If you already own a smart phone, and it’s a current smart phone, they are honestly good enough! The last time I travelled to northern Thailand, I travelled with over $10,000 worth of camera gear and some of my best photos I took and edited were from my iPhone.
Just because you have an expensive camera and many fancy lenses does not mean your photos are going to be good. It’s more knowing how to use your gear (whether it’s $10,000 or $100), about good content, subjects and composition.
What travel photography tips do you have for beginners?
Don’t jump on the plane with a brand new camera/phone that you have never used or you will be spending the whole trip trying to work out how to use it! Get out with your camera well before your holiday. Do a hands-on workshop or book some one-on-one training with a photographer to learn how to get the most from your device, and how to turn an ordinary photo into a great photo.