Commonsensical Shooting Tips from Ten Top Photographers

A camera with a large lens sits next to a copy of Top Travel Photo Tips.

Photo © Laura Martone.

When, in late October, I found myself sitting in a hospital room in downtown New Orleans, waiting to hear about my husband’s prognosis after an unexpected bout of gastrointestinal bleeding, I admit to seeking solace in the pages of two travel-related books – both of which I was invited to review by their respective publishers. One was Audrey Sutherland’s Paddling North (Ventura, CA: Patagonia Books, 2012, $22.95), a moving memoir about the author’s solo kayaking trips through Alaska, and the other was Chuck DeLaney’s Top Travel Photo Tips From Ten Pro Photographers (New York: Allworth Press, 2012, $16.95), a helpful how-to guide produced by the New York Institute of Photography (NYIP) and filled with gorgeous images from around the world.

As I promised you back then, I’ve decided to offer some of the lessons learned from the latter of the two. While, admittedly, there are innumerable books on photography, from how-to guides to coffee-table showpieces, Top Travel Photo Tips is a useful, “quick-and-easy everyday photography guide” for those wanting to improve their photographic skills while traveling. In fact, just as the recently reviewed Travel Writer’s Handbook is exceedingly helpful for both travel-writing novices and professional writers alike, so is Top Travel Photo Tips beneficial to both amateur and veteran travel photographers. After all, it’s never too late to learn a new trick or two.

As previously mentioned, this relatively compact guide was compiled by Chuck DeLaney, a professional photographer for more than three decades and the current director of the NYIP – which was established in 1910 and is now considered the world’s oldest and largest school of photography. In keeping with the NYIP belief that anyone can take professional-quality images – even with a basic digital single-lens reflex camera or high-performance point-and-shoot model – Chuck interviewed 10 well-traveled, professional photographers about their favorite tips and techniques for taking great travel photographs.

“The widespread belief,” Chuck writes in the book’s introduction, “is that the average shutterbug can’t possibly capture wonderful images,” but “equipment is always secondary to the person taking the pictures.” His hope is that this book will debunk such myths and help you “to take really wonderful photographs of your experiences, show your family and friends the most remarkable aspects of your journey, and preserve those memories for everyone to enjoy later on.”

According to Chuck, “over 80% of families and individuals will be traveling on holiday for two or more weeks this year,” and if you intend to be one of them, you’ll need to learn “how to take control of your camera” and “’see’” like a photographer.”

Following a brief history of travel photography, including how it’s evolved today, the book is divided into 10 chapters, each of which features the practical advice, travel experiences, safety tips, and sample photos of a specific photographer. Here’s just some of what you’ll learn from these 10 amazing pros:


Make a Picture – Always strive to improve each photograph you take. And be willing to shoot more shots, and check the light and the angles and continue to study the shots you’ve made to try to get the best results… If you plan a photo session in advance, no matter where you travel, you’ll shoot images you’ll be proud of nearly every time. I recommend this to anyone who wants to improve their shooting. Simply put, this is the methodology of a professional photographer: decide to shoot, plan your shoot, prepare for your shoot, and go do it. Once you’re on location, do your best to constantly improve your results and take multiple shots. —Michael Doven


Start at Home – No matter where you live, there’s always travel-related subject matter. It could be a scenic view, a local monument, or a community festival. You’ll also have the advantage of snapping photos at different times of the day and year, and you’ll have local knowledge on the best or unique views. The best way to start taking better travel photographs is by making mistakes and learning from them, something you can do at home… without regrets. —Wendy Connett


Be a People Person – I love to travel into a country with an open agenda and just wander and shoot the street life. I love to shoot in third world countries where life is harsh and difficult but at the same time beautiful in my eyes – the laughter of children, the strong sense of community in areas where life is difficult… Of course early morning and late evening light is great, but this shouldn’t limit when we should photograph. Sometimes harsh lighting can provoke a very interesting photograph. You know, I really like all types of lighting. Look for shade and work with the light. —Larry Louie


Be Adventurous – It’s important to be in the right place at the right time, and that comes from a mixture of research, observation, and talking to locals… Be adventurous. Veer off the beaten path to discover exceptional photographic opportunities… Everywhere you go, diving into the middle of the action will allow you to capture an array of energy and emotions. These images will give your viewer a true sense of your location. —Chase Guttman


Give a Bit of Yourself – If you’re traveling in a foreign country that’s completely different from yours, it makes a world of difference if you stop and at least try to communicate with the person you want to photograph… I think that if you do give a little bit of yourself in the process, the person who you’re photographing is more than ready to give a bit more of themselves… You don’t have to spend hours, but you do have to spend some time getting to know people, even if it’s just by smiling, approaching them, shaking hands, or sometimes buying something. Even five minutes gives a chance for some kind of relationship to develop. —Mitchell Kanashkevich


Capture Outdoor Action – In natural settings such as Africa, I try to capture uninterrupted scenes where I haven’t staged anything… My approach is usually to photograph people hiking, climbing, or skiing. In those situations, I have a conversation with them regarding my intentions of making natural-looking imagery. I have them seek routes or ski lines or particular trails they like, then I attempt to place myself in position for the best camera angle that conveys the mystery, action, or mood of the location best. —Marc Muench


Keep It Candid – If I’m walking onto private property or I’m in a more private domain like someone’s house, I may ask my subject for permission to photograph first unless it’s the type of situation where we’ve been talking for a while about them and their life and they seem to feel comfortable with me – in which case, I may just start to shoot… If you feel uncomfortable just shooting without consent, ask for permission from your subject. If you get a yes, maybe stick with the stranger for a little while and they’ll eventually relax into candid mode and you won’t have such a posed picture. —Nadia Shira Cohen


Combine Geek and Artist – The most important tip in travel photography is to really open your eyes and look for a subject and angle that will tell a story and make an interesting photo. I constantly keep pushing myself to re-look at the environment I’m in and try to interpret it in a different way. I’m a strong believer in the idea that the more shots you take, the better you become – so you’ve just got to keep pushing yourself and try new things with your camera. —Tom Robinson


Channel Your Zen – For me a successful trip is one where I’m able to take the time and emotional energy to pay attention to what’s happening around me. So I’m not just in Agra to see this building called the Taj Mahal. While I’m there, I notice the people working and the life on the street and the dichotomy of the guy hauling some stuff on his back or on a camel – all of this is going on in front of the Taj Mahal… Rid yourself of all the things that are on your mind – how badly you want the picture – and just be a human being. If you’re one human being letting another human being know that you respect him and you’d like to take his picture, I find that to be successful. —Jesse Kalisher


Photograph Intrigue and Wonder – Be able to identify what it is that excites you. Before you book your trip, find those regions of the world that stir your blood… Analyze a scene and figure out what motivates you to capture that scene, and then try to emphasize those elements… In travel photography, an exaggeration of drama, lighting, and atmosphere are key components. They’re ways to spark a sense of wonder. Look for intrigue and wonder in the scenes you want to photograph. —Peter Guttman


Of course, that’s just a small portion of what you’ll find in Top Travel Photo Tips. Although the book serves as an unabashed advertisement for the NYIP (as evidenced by the full-page ads on the inner front and inner rear covers, plus a strategically placed insert halfway through the interviews), it’s also chock-full of helpful advice and inspiring images. Besides an informative interview, after all, each photographer offers a handy list of top tips or guidelines intended to make any reader a better travel photographer. So, you’re sure to glean some good advice from the book’s glossy pages, and, as Chuck says, “your travel photographs might one day inspire others to travel in your footsteps, help people understand different lands and cultures – or simply amaze your family and friends.”

So, which photography books have helped you best capture the people, places, and events encountered during your travels?

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