Backpacking Photography

Backpacking Photography

Poitiers Night

With the massive storage that camera memory cards have these days you could very well just snap away like a mad man (or woman) and hope that later, one among the hundreds will have come out well. I am not a camera expert. I have traveled with a point-and-shoot, never with a large bulky SLR or other equally-expensive camera. I would hope that those of you with the heavy hitter products already know how to use them. No, this article is for the rest of us, with our rectangular memory-catchers.

Although I’m not much of an expert on photography, I’ve been told I take good photos. I want to share with all my backpacking brothers and sisters a few tips and advice on how to really communicate your experience of travelling through your photos. The worst is when you have your friends and family sitting around watching your slideshow with yawns. I hope the following helps.

Finding the Right Shot

Venice Canal

Try not to take just any shot. You’re taking a photo of the scene, yes, but that’s not what you want.

To Be or Not To Be In the Photo

One thing that will bore your Facebook album viewers is if you saturate your albums with those typical pictures of you smiling at each place you visit. Yes, it’s important to have photos of you smiling, but when all of your photos are like that, it gets very boring. The best you can do is to try to take three photos of the same scene: one with your typical smile, one with nothing but the scene, and one with you in some kind of unexpected position. Check out the photo I took of myself at the Athens Parthenon. It’s strange, right?

Framing, Camera Positioning, and Composition

Istanbul - Turkey

You might have to consult the experts on this one, but here are a few basic ideas to get you rolling:

Consider the angle of your shot. Most backpacker snapshots seem to show, simply enough, where you were standing and looking. Bend your knees, or turn the camera backward or forward; try to find those low angle or high angle positions that show the mountain or building in a different light. My photo of Istanbul’s Blue Mosque uses its own court columns to frame it.

Try taking a close-up of something in the foreground, blurring the background, but using that composition to drive attention to the thing in the back. Imagine you’re in view of the Eiffel Tower, sitting at a café, your cup of coffee on the table in front of you. The frame will be the cup in the foreground and the Eiffel Tower blurred but unmistakable in the back.

Including foreground obstructions like grates or fences or people walking is a great idea. Show more than just what you’re seeing. Try to find what will express your traveling experience best to your loved ones. The photo of my two friends in The Hague is silly because they appear apathetic as their bodies frame the leader of the country’s office.

Light Sources, Exposure, and Camera Options

Sarajevo Bullet Holes

You’ll have to read your camera’s manual to understand how to set exposure settings. Assuming we all have the pre-programed snapshot boxes, you will have the ability to choose the flower symbol ‘macro’ for close-ups, and the crescent moon ‘night shot.’ You can also control the flash – a very important thing.

Search out light sources that best illuminate your scene. The flash can oftentimes ruin an otherwise good photo. Why not take one with and one without?

When you use the night shot, steady the camera on something solid and don’t move it! A cool effect is also to set the flash to ‘on’ during a night shot, and you can get eerie ghostly effects with flash-blur-time. Consider my photo of the Poitiers, France cathedral. What’s more interesting, the photo as is, or if we had posed with smiles?

Editing Your Travel Images

Parthenon - Athens

I am not against editing photos to an extent, especially if you’re working with low-grade technology like the regular point-and-shoots. I rarely change the colors, but often adjust exposure, brightness, and contrast. The photos I want to show are not of the places, but of my experience visiting them. Photography in this respect is a translation of feeling. Consider taking a snapshot with the intention of editing it. My photo of the bridge silhouetted in Prague was taken with editing in mind.

Low Impact Photography

Blue Mosque - Istanbul

One final point I’d like to make when talking about us backpackers and our tendency to take a lot of photos, is the impact it has on the people. Backpackers should have a cultivated appreciation for local customs, since we’re here because we want to learn about cultures different from our own. Avoid making people uncomfortable, or at least try some secretive photography!

Also, having your camera constantly in your hands, taking photos left and right, is lame. Instead of getting the experience, those who abuse cameras like this are living their traveling experience in the future. Put the thing away for a spell mate, and take a look at where you are!