The caveats of travel photography

As amateur photographers, one of the best photographic experiences is taking photographs when travelling. But it’s also often somewhat of a gamble. Sure, those perfect images you see on tourist websites and the like are truly spectacular, but they are usually taken by professional photographers who have the time to wait for the most optimal moment, and often don’t have to contend with masses of people spoiling the vista, or poor weather. Or they are photographs taken from above with a professional drone. But as don’t all have the ability, or the ability to wait all day to take the perfect photograph.

Indeed, there are some pictures you will not be able to duplicate. In many places the best photographs are the ones you can buy, i.e. postcards (doesn’t that seem old fashioned?) or photo books (before leaving Iceland on a visit years ago, I picked up a copy of I Was Here: Iceland, a small photo book by Icelandic photographer Kristján Ingi Einarsson). It’s not surprising that these images are so good, because they are taken using full-frame of medium-frame cameras, and high-resolution drones (with the proper permissions). They are often full of detail, brightly coloured and lack the cars and people that always seem to ruin a shot.

When you are somewhere for a short period of time, you hope you’ll get a good series of photographs, but you can never be sure of that, and it usually has to do with two things – weather and people. People are only a problem in so much as in popular places they are everywhere. It’s sometimes hard to capture a good photograph of something, sans the people. But it’s not insurmountable – go early or late, or I guess post-process it to remove unwanted objects. Weather is more of an issue, especially in places where the weather can change quickly.

The perfect storm – A geysir at the Geysir Hot Springs, an attraction along the Golden Circle in Iceland. But the weather is never guaranteed to be perfect, and there are always a lot of people, making the perfect photograph extremely hard to obtain.

A good example of this is travelling in Iceland. Look at the tourism website and you will see fantastic photographs of the natural landscape. However if you visit, your photography will be largely affected by both the weather and the hoards of tourists at some sites. During the short summer there can be a huge number of tourists, and natural attractions such as those along the Golden Circle are packed to the rafters with tourist buses. Go early or late if you can there is ample daylight until late, and you might avoid the latest if the masses. The weather in Iceland can also turn on a dime, even in the height of summer. Rain and fog are abundant. Weather is always a factor, and not something you can process away. On a summer day, you can experience a sunny day, a windy day, a rainy day or even sometimes unexpectedly, a winter day.

But when the weather gives you lemons, you just have to learn to adjust. You may be in a place you will never return to, and you want to make the most of the time you have. Sometimes this means having the most appropriate gear. A camera and lenses with good weather sealing makes the world of difference in both wet and dry, dusty conditions. An optimal choice of a lens that is good in all circumstances – you don’t really want to be changing lenses too often. Also if venturing off to a place with weather extremes take precautions, like purchasing a camera shell to keep out the rain and dust.

P.S. There is some great drone footage out there of places like Iceland, however with newer regulations it has become harder to actually fly drones in some places. For example in Iceland, flying a drone in national parks, protected areas, nature reserves, and monuments is not permitted. It is becoming stricter in many places, because let’s face it, drones can sometimes be quite annoying.

P.P.S. For a great introduction to Iceland get a copy of Stunning Iceland: The Hedonist’s Guide, by Bertrand Jouanne and Gunnar Freyr (just released this year).

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