3 Lessons I Learned About Travel Photography
I am currently travelling around Europe in this van. I live and work in this small space and everything I need to make images on the road has to work in this small space.
These are the things I've learned so far.
1. Stuff breaks.
I'd been on the road less than a week and I pulled the brand new Fujifilm X-T2 out of my camera bag to discover in horror the screen on the back was smashed. Luckily the camera still works and I can use the EVF to review photos and change settings but it could easily have been worse. To compound the problem, I would need to send the camera back to Fuji and by the time they were ready to send it back I was going to be in another country. I wasn't sure exactly which one either!
I ended up buying another body, but I did pack one of my old X-T1's just in case something like this happened. If you are making a photography specific trip then having a back up body is a very good idea. Get a second hand body that will take your lenses. It can be an entry level from a couple of years back so if it gets stolen from the hotel room it's not a disaster. Being 3 days into a photography tour without a camera - that's a disaster. Of course it should go without saying that you'll need plenty of spare batteries and memory cards too. These things will not only break, but they are easily lost and even easier to forget to charge, format etc.
2. Pack light
This is something I've got better at over time. A couple of years ago I was teaching some students on Lemnos, a small island in the Aegean on a photography tour. At the time I was still shooting with my Nikon dslr kit full time, but I'd just got a Fuji X Pro 1 and a couple of lenses to play around with. I ended up taking both to Lemnos. I had two camera bags full of gear as well as a bunch of flash gear for doing the portrait workshops. Most days I took the X Pro 1 and the 35mm 1.4. Everything else stayed in the hotel. I don't think I touched the Nikons for the entire 8 day tour.
As I am living in the van, to a certain extent I have to have everything I might need with me. In the last month I have shot fashion on Lake Garda, Portraiture in Crete and documentary in Athens so my gear needs to be able to handle whatever I am going to throw at it. But most days I take the Fuji X-T2 and the 35 1.4 and that's it. By only taking one body and one lens it frees you up to experience the amazing places you are seeing, without thinking about what lens you should use next or whether to break out the flash gear.
3. Take your time
The first part of this trip was split into three legs. First I was heading down to the Algarve in Portugal for the closing party of a long term project I've been involved with, the second was a 2,400km drive north east to Brescia in Northern Italy to do shoot fashion shoot on Lake Garda and up in the Alps, then another massive drive through Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia and Greece to catch a ferry to Crete to lead a photography tour for a week on the island. All this happened within a couple of months and the upshot of all that driving was that I would often drive past amazing places at the wrong time of day, without the time to stop and wait for the best light.
Now I have deliberately created some time at each place I want to photograph so that I can explore it in more detail. When you get to know people in a place, spend some time walking around it and let it get under your skin, your images will be much better for it.
Shoot less! This is also something I've got better at over time. The more time you spend engaging your brain before you get your gear out, the better. Make a few thoughtful images. These will be far better than a thousand snap shots. You won't spend hours every evening editing and backing up a million photos, and you'll enjoy the trip much more if you're not permanently glued to the viewfinder of your camera. Take the time to let the subject sink in, walk around it a while and think about how best to tell your story. Make sure you have your settings locked in and take your shot. Be a sniper, not a machine gun operator.
About the author.
Matt Widgery is a photographer, photography trainer and YouTuber. Originally from the UK, he now spends his time shooting and teaching around the world, living out of a van with a couple of bikes, way too many cameras, and a ukulele. His work is varied, encompassing portraiture, fashion and landscapes.
Currently working on a book and exhibition he is spending six months shooting in Europe. The book will be out in 2018.