We’re always on the lookout for ways to take better travel photos. Today’s guest post was written by Mark Condon, the founder of Shotkit, a website dedicated to camera gear and photography. Mark shares a few tips on how to choose the right camera, what photo accessories you should pack, and some tips and tricks for capturing great photos.
How to take better travel photos
It’s often said that the best camera is the one you have with you. For most of us, that means our mobile phones. Modern phones do a decent job taking pictures, but they have limitations.
If you want to get creative with your photography, or get that envious blurred-background look, you’re much better off investing in a ‘real’ camera. By ‘real’ camera, I’m talking about compact cameras, mirrorless cameras or dSLRs.
Today I want to focus on mirrorless cameras.
What is a mirrorless camera?
Whilst a dSLR camera uses a mirror to reflect the scene in front of you back up into the viewfinder, a mirrorless camera uses electronics to replace the mirror. This gives the huge advantage of being able to see your image before you press the shutter button.
With a dSLR or most compact cameras, you’re looking through a piece of glass at your scene. When you alter your camera settings, the scene doesn’t change.
However, the beauty of a mirrorless camera is that it uses something called an EVF (electronic view finder) to project the image into the viewfinder. When you adjust your settings, you can see the change those settings make to the image you’re about to take.
This ‘real-time preview’ is invaluable for learning about your camera and the 3 main components that go into controlling your image – shutter speed, ISO and aperture.
Choosing the right Mirrorless Camera for travel
I’ve done a lot of testing to find what I consider to be the best mirrorless cameras. I discuss numerous options on my blog, but today I want to keep things simple by suggesting two of my favourite mirrorless cameras.
These two cameras are small, lightweight and produce great images. They’re also inconspicuous. They look like old fashioned film cameras to the untrained eye, so shouldn’t attract much attention when you travel – at least not as much as a big dSLR and zoom lens would.
One caveat with mirrorless cameras is that the battery life isn’t great. If you want to shoot over 400-ish photos a day, it’s wise to pack a second battery.
Good mirrorless cameras aren’t cheap. But, like most things in life, you get what you pay for.
Olympus OMD-EM10 Mark II
I tested this camera’s big brother, the Olympus OMD-EM5 Mark II, during a 1 month family holiday around Europe.
After completing my review on the Olympus OMD-EM5 Mark II, a smaller, cheaper version was released with very similar functionality and identical image quality.
Here are the main functions of the Olympus OMD-EM10 Mark II:
- 16MP Four Thirds Live MOS sensor
- TruePic VII processor
- 5-axis image stabilization
- 2.36M-dot OLED EVF
- Tilting 3″ touchscreen LCD
- 1080/60p video
- 4K time-lapse mode
- Optional grip
The main benefit of the Olympus OMD-EM10 Mark II is the lightning fast auto focus. When traveling, it’s often necessary to grab a photo of something at a moment’s notice. Having a camera that can lock focus on the subject in milliseconds is a huge benefit, allowing you to quickly get the shot before it disappears.
Another thing I love about this camera is the tilting LCD screen. This function allows you to tap to focus and shoot. Being able to compose and shoot from waist level really is a great feature of the Olympus OMD-EM10 Mark II.
All the lightweight zoom lenses for the Olympus OMD-EM10 Mark II are great for travel. Normally I’d recommend a prime lens (ie. non-zoom), but when traveling, a zoom is more versatile.
Unless you absolutely need the functionality found in the X-T2, I’d recommend you consider the Fuji X-T20 for your next travel camera. It’s great value for money and the image quality is even better than the Olympus mentioned above (hence it being more expensive).
Let’s have a quick look at the key features of the Fuji X-T20:
- 24MP X-Trans CMOS III sensor
- Up to 325 selectable AF points (169 of which offer phase detection)
- 2.36M-dot OLED electronic viewfinder
- 3″ 1.04M-dot tilting touchscreen LCD
- 4K UHD video at up to 30 fps, with clean output over HDMI
- 8 fps continuous shooting with AF, 5 fps with live view
- 2.5mm jack for external microphone or wired remote control
- Dials for exposure compensation, shutter speed and drive mode
You’ll notice a big jump in mega pixels when compared to the Olympus. One benefit of having more megapixels is the ability to ‘crop’ to zoom your photo when editing. This comes in handy when you’re taking a photo of something in the distance and your zoom lens can’t quite reach it – when you get home, you have more ability to zoom in and crop the photo if you have higher mega-pixels.
The Fuji X-T20 has a flip out LCD screen, so benefits from its ability to be shot discreetly. However, where the Olympus wins this battle is in the speed of shooting via the LCD screen.
Fuji mirrorless cameras are well known for two things: (1) they produce gorgeous images, especially the colours, and (2) there’s a great selection of lenses to choose from.
Unless you have a good lens on your camera, you’re really limiting its performance – it’s like driving a Ferrari with the handbrake on!
Accessories for Travel Photography
Before writing this post, Cam asked that I mention some of the accessories I think are useful for travel photography. Whilst things like filters, tripods, batteries and camera bags serve a purpose, I’d recommend you travel light with your photography gear.
I wrote a post on the best camera bags for 2017, but when traveling with my family, I just wrap my camera in a shirt and throw it in my regular travel bag. There’s usually no need for a dedicated camera bag, especially for backpackers who need to carry so many other things.
An accessory you’ll want to bring is table top tripod or monopod (selfie stick). This item serves both purposes. While tripods are essential for long exposure photography, they can be quite clunky for travel. You can usually find a flat surface to steady your camera, so don’t weigh yourself down with more bulk. Table top tripods are compact and lightweight.
I also recommend a camera strap. I’m a big advocate of having your camera out (ie. not in a bag) and ready to use at a second’s notice. I don’t even use a lens cap. By having your camera on a strap, it will always be right where you need it.
A tip for camera straps – don’t wear it around your neck. Instead, wear it across your body like a messenger bag. That way you’ll be able to tuck the camera out of sight beneath your arm or slightly in front of it (not behind though, that can invite theft).
Finally, get yourself a couple of fast memory cards. As for the capacity, well, unless you’re traveling with a laptop to offload your photos each night, I’d recommend getting the biggest sized card you can afford. If you bring a couple of memory cards you can swap them at night and leave one in your hotel room. That way, in the event your camera is stolen or the card is damaged, you don’t loose all of your photos.
Read next – 15 Photos that will inspire you to visit Belize
Travel Photography Tips
I thought I’d end this post with a few photography tips. Most modern cameras offer the functionality I’m about to describe, but if yours doesn’t, don’t fret – all that matters at the end of the day is that you’re taking photos and documenting your memories.
For more photography tips, head over to my blog where my most recent post should interest those of you who, like Cam and Nicole, travel with the little ones – how to photograph children.
JPEG + RAW
For those of you who don’t know, JPG and RAW are two types of image format. Typically, a camera applies its own ‘styling’ to a JPG file to make it look pretty, whereas a RAW is an unedited version of the picture you took.
There are pros and cons of each format, but if your camera has the functionality, I’d recommend you set it to use both formats at the same time.
With the cameras I recommended above, and many other cameras these days, the JPG quality is very good. As long as you know the basics of taking a good photo, you won’t need to spend time editing your photos at home.
However, by having the RAW file too, you have the option to really dig into the image file to unearth a lot of hidden data. Using a program like Lightroom, you can ‘push and pull’ your RAW files much more than a JPG. This gives you the chance to recover that an image that you ‘under exposed’ (i.e. too dark), or perhaps adjust the white balance to keep skin tones looking natural.
I wrote an ebook on Lightroom Tips for those of you who already have a solid grasp of Lightroom. If you’re not interested in editing your photos, stick to the JPGs and practice getting your photos right ‘in camera’.
This is another function that most modern cameras have, where you are able to take a series of photos in quick succession, each with a different ‘exposure’. What this means is, you’ll end up with a series of the same photo, ranging from dark to light.
Just by pressing the shutter button once, you’ll have several images to choose from, meaning you don’t need to waste time trying to find the right exposure. This can be particularly useful for travel photography when you don’t have time to fiddle with your camera settings.
Exposure bracketing is also how to do HDR photography, which can result in powerful images.
Most cameras have Wi-Fi functionality these days. Wi-Fi is most commonly used to transfer images you shoot on your camera to your mobile devices, so you can share on social media.
Whether we like to admit it or not, one of the joys of traveling is sharing our photos with the world. Wi-Fi allows you to take a high quality photos on your camera, then share it easily via your phone or tablet.
However, one under-used functionality of camera Wi-Fi is the ability to take selfies, or group shots, where you also appear in the image. Next time you want to take a photo featuring yourself, try using your camera’s Wi-Fi instead.
To do this, you’ll need to download the corresponding remote app for your camera before you leave home. Then, when you’re ready to take your photo, place your camera on something sturdy and activate the Wi-Fi and the mobile app.
You should be able to see what your camera sees, allowing you to compose a great shot with you in it! I do this all the time when traveling with my family and highly recommend it.
Bonus tip – set your camera to ‘timer mode’. That way when you press the shutter button on your mobile device, you can hide it away before the photo is taken. Viewers will be none the wiser at your ability to take such candid photos of you and your family.
I hope you enjoyed this post on how to take better travel photos. I want to thank Cam and Nicole for having me and wish you all safe travels and happy snapping!
Read next – 13 Awesome Photos from Around the World