Spent two weeks in some exotic locale, only for your pictures to look like you stayed a weekend in Sentosa? Award-winning travel photographer Jino Lee shares how to best capture the essence of a place in pictures with Canon Singapore.
Photos by Jino Lee
Location, location, locationPick a place that interests you, then research as much about it as you can. That way, you’ll know when’s the best time to go there. You can also look at pictures of the place so you know have a better idea of what it’s like, how everything looks, and what you might be able to shoot.
Planning is keyYou’re going all the way there already, so you don’t want to waste any time. Find out everything you can, such as when the sun rises or sets and how many hours of daylight you’ll have. Then you can map where and when to shoot key areas.
Prepare your gearDepending on where you’re going, your equipment needs will change, as well as the precautions you must take. For example, if you’re going for a trek in the mountains, there are certain things you might not want to overload yourself with. If you’re going to spend a lot of time in or around water, you might also want to think about how you can protect your camera.
Get a guideIf you’re not just on holiday and are going specially to shoot, it’s worthwhile to get a guide. He’ll be able to bring you around, set your itinerary, help you get the shots you want, speak the language, and even set things up for you. He’ll also be able to advise you on what the best way to do things would be.
GETTING THE SHOT
Take your timeDon’t start shooting the minute you get there. Walk around without a camera, talk to people, and try to get a feel of the place first. That way you’ll be able to evaluate your ideas and find the shots you want to take. The locals will also be more comfortable with you when you do start shooting, going about their regular routines without being too self conscious.
Find your subjectsTravel photography isn’t just about the physical location, it’s also about the people and culture. A monument is just a building. What makes a country unique and special are its inhabitants, so take more photos of them.
Don’t just shootIf you’ve gotten someone’s permission to photograph them, feel free to direct them a little. Don’t try to force poses, just get them to maybe stand in the light a bit more, or just act naturally. Most people tend to become very stiff when put in front of a camera.
Make a listCome up with a list of shots before you head out. You might not be able to complete it or find all the things on it, but at least you’ll have a guideline if you run out of ideas, don’t have any inspiration, or find some spare time.
Find the feelingA good shot has to evoke an emotional response, bringing you back to when you shot it, and share your experience taking it. It’s important to try and capture the essence of the place.
FestivalsIf you can time your visit with a festival, you’ll have many more interesting variations in your photos. Find out what the festival is about, and look out for meaningful elements that will represent it beyond the fanfare. Access is king, so try to find ways to go where regular people can’t. There’s a lot to be captured, so try to document the festival from beginning to end. For a complete picture, try to get wide, mid-range, and tight shots of everything.
Still lifeSimple things in each country can be beautiful. It’s all about how well you can represent daily life in these places, so try to document everyday things such as taking public transport, sending a kid to school, or going to popular eating places.
LandscapesHow well your shot turns out will depend largely on the weather, with your technical skills determining the rest. Bad weather or lighting conditions will almost certainly spoil the shot, so it might be necessary to go back to your selected vantage point a few times before you get something good.
MonumentsIt’s very challenging to find shots that haven’t been taken to death. Don’t take postcard shots. Instead, try to take photos from different angles, include unique elements in the composition, or focus on smaller details. You might also want to consider looking for other places to get a better shot, such as from the top of another building etc. A fisheye lens could also come in handy to capture a wider perspective.
KNOW YOUR EQUIPMENT
The right cameraIdeally, carry a DSLR because of the higher levels of performance and ability to use different lenses. At the very least, try to have a multi-range zoom lens so you don’t have to carry too much equipment. A 50mm portrait lens might also help, since the wide aperture will help at night too.
Bring a tripodIf possible, always carry a tripod. It might be a nuisance at times, but it’ll allow you to capture more light without worrying about image blur. In low-light you’ll be able to use a lower ISO to minimise noise. Alternatively, you could also use it with slow shutter speed to depict movement.
Flash of lightIt’s good to have a flash, but with travel photography you want to shoot as true-to-life as possible, so natural light is much better. If really necessary, use it as side-lighting so the photo doesn’t look too unnatural.
WHAT TO AVOID
Don’t get into confrontationsThe last thing you want to do is upset anyone. You want nice photos and memories, so hostile situations will just lead to an overall bad experience, ruining the trip. You’re a visitor, so don’t argue with locals who tell you not to do certain things.
Neglecting your healthTake care of yourself, because falling sick will also ruin the trip. That includes being aware of your surroundings, and not getting so engrossed in your shot that you put yourself in harm’s way.
Interfering too muchThe best way to capture a moment is candidly, so if you want to photograph someone doing something, don’t get them to do it again if you miss your chance, as they tend to become self-conscious after.
Being too rigidFocusing too much on getting a certain shot might blind you to something wonderful that’s happening right in front of you. Don’t close your mind when shooting, or new ideas won’t be able to enter.