Travel Tips for Photographers

Getting out and exploring largely defines who I am and what I do. If I stopped doing that completely, I would probably go stir crazy and drive everyone at home insane. When I was a kid and gas was under a buck, I would often find roads to drive down and take it as far as I could until I couldn't go any further, just to see where it would take me. Mind you I could've just read a paper map (there was no Google street view in 1996) but where's the fun in that? Whether it be close to home or half way around the globe, the prospect of getting lost in unfamiliar territory and discovering something new gets me excited to think about.

I've learned a lot over the years through my adventures in traveling. I've learned how to avoid paying full retail price for most travel expenses and have developed a solid system that works for me when I'm preparing to hit the road.

I decided to put together a not-so-short write-up on what I've learned through my experiences traveling as a photographer. In no particular order, here are some of my most useful tips that I felt could be of benefit.

1) Be flexible with your dates. The cost of airfare fluctuates from day to day. I'm able to find the best deals on airfare through Airfare Watchdog by setting up alerts to scan all of the travel sites that then notify me instantly when a deal is found. By being flexible with my dates, I'm able to purchase airfare for dates when it's cheaper to fly. I managed to fly from Los Angeles to London on British Airways for $425 round trip.

London Eye | London, United Kingdom

London Eye | London, United Kingdom

2) Hotel Rewards cards can be very rewarding. I charge all of my gas and food, as well as other miscellaneous expenses, on my American Express Starwood Rewards card and pay it off each month. By doing this, I was able to accumulate enough points to book a five night stay at the Westin in Downtown Seattle.

Pike Place Market | Seattle, Washington

Pike Place Market | Seattle, Washington

3) Incorporate flexibility in your plan. Doing a little bit of pre-planning will help the whole trip flow more smoothly. Take some time to research what you'd like to do when you arrive at your destination. If you're not sure how reliable internet connectivity will be where you're traveling to, jot down the phone numbers and addresses of some of they key destinations you're wanting to hit up. By knowing in advance what you'd like to accomplish, it saves you from having to sit down and waste time during your trip to figure out what to do or where to go. Just keep in mind that plans rarely go exactly as planned. If things start to deviate, just go with the flow and enjoy your vacation.

4) Don't be afraid to try public transportation. Figuring out transportation can be an overwhelming task when traveling to a big city. Thankfully apps like Hopstop and Google Maps make it incredibly easy to find your way around.

Transit directions on Google Maps is the option I'd recommend if it's available for the city you're traveling to, and is available on Android phones and iPhones. Hop Stop has more coverage when it comes to needing public transit directions, however, Apple recently purchased Hop Stop and made the app exclusive to the iPhone. The good thing though, is that you can still get directions from Hop Stop through through a web browser on any PC or mobile device. Try both options and see how you like them.

Fulton Landing | Manhattan, New York

Fulton Landing | Manhattan, New York

5) Use crowd sourced photo pools for inspiration. If you're not familiar with the travel photographer Trey Ratcliff and his Stuck in Customs photo blog, he built an awesome app called Stuck on Earth. It's a crowd sourced app that's designed to help you discover places to photograph. It's now available for Android and Apple devices and doesn't cost a cent. Within the app, you can search any location on earth and see endless amounts of geo-tagged photos that were captured wherever it is you're interested in traveling to. It's the perfect companion for doing pre-travel planning so you can find all the cool local spots to photograph from that tourists don't typically know about. Once you know where you want to go shooting, use Hop Stop or Google Maps to figure out how to get there.

6) Know where the sun will be setting. If you love sunset photography, it's important to make sure you're in the right spot at the right time. The Photographer's Ephemeris is a very handy program that is available for the PC, or as an app for Android and Apple devices. It serves as a sun and moon calculator that uses maps to tell you the exact position of the sun and moon at any time throughout the day. If you're not really familiar with the direction the sun rises or sets in where you're traveling to, you need this app.

There are many times in which I've headed out to the beach for a sunset photoshoot only to find that I'm facing south staring at a pale blue sky while the sun is setting off towards the west. Talk about frustrating. If you're considering several locations to shoot the sunset from, this tool can be used for researching beforehand where the sun will be setting. This way you don't waste time traveling to a location that won't even have a view of all the beautiful colors. If you're a sunrise photographer, the app works just the same.

7) Be courteous to your non-photographer travel companions. If you're not traveling alone, chances are the rest of your party will get quite bored watching you shoot photos. What? How could this be?!?! I know, I know, hard to be believe. Trust me on this though, I speak from experience.

If you find yourself at a particularly interesting destination, perhaps at the top of Notre Dame de Paris with a sweeping 360 degree view of the city, take some time to enjoy the moment with your travel companion before you lift the camera to your face and start shooting (tip from wife: otherwise they will get pissed).

If possible, try to plan some time where you can head out alone for a couple hours while the rest of your party engages in more entertaining activities. Or better yet, check to see if there are other activities your party can engage in at the location you're photographing.

Sacré Cœur | Paris, France

Sacré Cœur | Paris, France

8) Pack snacks for extended outings. If you can spare the room in your bag, load up on a few snacks to keep you fueled up while you're out on your feet. When you're out shooting photos it's really easy to lose track of the time. You'll be able to focus better on your photography if your stomach isn't screaming at you for food. If you can't spare the room in your bag, consider wearing clothing with extra pockets. I almost always wear cargo shorts when I'm out shooting because I like having the extra storage space to store snacks and camera gear.

9) Talk to the locals. There's no one that knows a town better than the locals that live there, so talk to them. Where ever you are, strike up a friendly conversation. You'd be amazed at how much people are willing help.

When I arrived on Yerba Buena island in San Francisco, a lady on the bus offered to show me different vantage points around the island to help me find that perfect spot I was looking for. Again when i was in San Diego, I was dead set on shooting the cityscape from Harbor Island until a local suggested that I'd have an even better view from Coronado island.

Golden Coast | San Francisco, California

Golden Coast | San Francisco, California

10) Visit the local farmer's market. Eating healthy is always a good idea, and can also be very difficult to do so when on vacation. Plus, there is never a shortage of incredible photo opportunities at the local markets.

Bonus Tip: Put on your favorite pair of walking shoes, get out of the hotel room, and explore. Some of the most amazing photo opportunities you'll encounter will be from getting out and exploring. Walk down a street you never would have considered walking down. Go discover things you never knew existed, and photograph them. I found one of the most stunning views I'd ever seen of the Transamerica building in San Francisco because I was lost and went down the wrong street.

Disclaimer:
Always use caution when traveling to areas you're unfamiliar with. Although it can be challenging to do so with a camera, do your best to try and blend in. Don't act or dress in a way that will draw attention to yourself. The only one who doesn't know you're not a local is you. If you're feeling uncomfortable about being in a certain area then follow your gut. If you don't feel safe, it's probably best to move on as quickly and inconspicuously as possible. Talking to locals is also a great way to learn about which neighborhoods you should stay away from. The most important thing to remember is to be safe.


Cress Street

Cress Street | Laguna Beach, California

Cress Street | Laguna Beach, California

It was a little nerve racking capturing this photograph at Laguna Beach last week. I was standing at the edge of total of disaster, hoping a wave wouldn't take my camera out. The sun was setting fast, it was high tide, and the waves were slamming into the rocks like I've never seen before. I was using my Zeiss 21mm lens, so I didn't have the advantage of standing further back and zooming in. I took a gamble and planted my tripod into the sand. As soon i popped the lens cap off, my lens started getting misted before I could even snap my first shot. I was quite literally cleaning my lens between shots to avoid water spots appearing in the photo.

I took a slight departure from how I typically photograph seascapes and used a faster shutter speed to freeze the intensity of the waves crashing before me. I really wanted to portray how man with all of his strength and wisdom, still does not have the power to overcome the forces of nature. As the sun continued setting beyond the horizon, the waves came to a calm and I just stood there enjoying yet another beautiful sunset.


Zen

Zen | Pearl St - Laguna Beach, California

Zen | Pearl St - Laguna Beach, California

A surfer sits idle on his board after an evening session; in a total state of calm as the sun melts into the horizon, flooding the surrounding environment with rich golden hues. There is no Facebook, Instagram, or Google. Honking horns, chitter chatter, and all other surrounding noises are on mute, hearing only his own breath as he draws it in and then exhales.

While lowering my camera back down, I paused for a brief moment before carrying on with my photography. I couldn't help contemplating how busy our lives have become in this crazy ADHD society we live in. Information is thrown at us from every direction possible and it never slows down. When we slow down, we get behind. We are on sensory overload, trying to take in everything imaginable. We've become so adept to this lifestyle that it has become normal, and any other variation would take us back a decade or two. But there comes a point when all this seemingly important data just becomes nothing more than garbage in, garbage out. Is it really enriching our lives or just leaving us engrossed?

Try this later when you get home. Bring your awareness to everything that demands your attention and then take sixty minutes out of your day to unplug from it all. Turn the television off, mute your phone, and stop staring at your twitter feed or whatever it is you can't stop paying attention to. Take a moment to slow yourself down and just appreciate the calm.


Shaw’s Cove

Shaw's Cove | Laguna Beach, California

Shaw's Cove | Laguna Beach, California

Whether it be the wee hours of the morning or at the end of a long day, I'm always chasing the sun, looking for that perfect light.  There's something really exciting about the prospect of waking up before the sun and finding that perfect spot to experience the first crack of dawn.  You walk out the door so early that it's dark everywhere, the air still feels fresh and crisp, and you realize that everyone else is still asleep.  For a moment, you question yourself and wonder why the heck you're not still in bed too.  It doesn't take long before it dawns on you (pun intended) how exciting it is to break out of the mold, to shake up the daily routine, and do something so amazing that so many people in the world never take advantage of.  This is what I do, and I love every minute of it.

Camera setup
I captured this photo using a Canon 5D Mark III and a Zeiss 21mm Distigon T* lens.   If you've never shot with the Zeiss 21mm lens, add that to your bucket list.  This lens is so amazingly sharp, it blows my mind.  A long shutter speed was used to capture the motion in the water, all while keeping the camera firmly mounted to my tripod with an RSS L bracket.  I used the camera's manual mode to set the exposure at 1/6th of a second, with an aperture of f/14 and ISO 100.


Under the Boardwalk

Under the Boardwalk | Balboa Peninsula, California

Under the Boardwalk | Balboa Peninsula, California

I was going to give you something from my sunrise shoot at Shaw's Cove last week but I started digging through the archives on my backup drive last night and found a lost set of photos from Balboa Pier that I never got around to editing. I haven't shared a pier shot in awhile and I really love the way this photo turned out. While sitting at my desk processing this photo, I kept wondering why I can't have this view from my cubicle at work. Some day, this will be my office.

Capturing motion is a specialty of mine I love taking advantage of when I'm at the beach. When you're photographing seascapes, a tenth of a second can make all the difference in the world, from capturing a little too much motion or not enough motion at all. While standing underneath the Balboa Pier, I left my shutter open for .4 seconds, which was exactly the right amount of time to capture the motion of the water receding back to the ocean while another wave formed its barrel just before breaking against the shore.

You can bet I certainly didn't return to the car dry for this photo, but that's all part of the joy in shooting seascapes. I love being able to stand barefoot in the ocean, feeling the wet sand between my toes and the water rush past my knees. It is one of the greatest feelings in the world.


Coastal Fog

Coastal Fog | Wood's Cove - Laguna Beach, California

Coastal Fog | Wood's Cove - Laguna Beach, California

When it comes to photographing sunsets and seascapes, I'm always looking for ways to construct an image that will inspire fellow photographers and leave my viewers in awe, by utilizing as many techniques in camera as possible. The sunset on this evening at Wood's Cove was so exceptional, I needed to do something extraordinary with my camera to capture how magical the experience was. My Lee 10 stop neutral density filter allowed me to capture this incredible 91 second exposure.

When you're shooting in raw format as I do, some degree of color correction and processing is needed since the camera is not applying the color profiles it does when you shoot in JPEG mode. I am by no means a purist that looks down on incorporating post processing techniques. I will however, try to get my photographs as perfect as possible to minimize the amount of time I need to spend on the computer editing photos.

I like to regard myself as being a photographic artist, and that means using the right filters and lenses for my camera to get the photo close to how I envisioned capturing the scene before I begin my post processing workflow. Of course this is just my personal philosophy on how I approach photography. There is no right or wrong way to go about it.


Moss Point

Moss Point | Laguna Beach, California

Moss Point | Laguna Beach, California

Moss Point is one of Laguna Beach's many hidden little coves. A short side street off of Pacific Coast Highway takes you to a steep stair case down to the little hide away beach. Lately the tide has been high at sunset around this part of California, which doesn't leave me with a whole lot of time to work with. The ocean was already creeping up to the base of the staircase when I got there and I knew right away this was going to be a wet evening. Once high tide rolls in, the waves turn into shore breaks that pound the sand with curtains of water consuming everything around it.

Before I head out to the shore line, I always try to time the sets of waves so I can go in during a lull to get everything set up without getting too soaked. It's an old trick I learned back when I used to surf. If you paddle out during a lull, you won't have to put up as big of a fight getting out to the line up. The same principal works well with seascape photography too. Well, I thought it was safe and headed out. I had my tripod all set up, my camera perfectly level, and my new Zeiss 21mm wide angle lens mounted on my camera; then out the corner of my eye I saw one final wave in the set start rolling in. It happened so quickly I didn't have much time to react. I grabbed my tripod by the legs and lifted it as high above my head as I could while the wave drenched me from the chest down. Soaking wet, thankful that my camera was still dry, and freezing my butt off, I quickly set my tripod back up and waited for the next set to begin. The water started receding back to the ocean and I could tell a wave was forming. I quickly fired off the shutter as the water swirled around the rocks, then grabbed my tripod and ran back as far as I could to avoid getting hit by the incoming wave. I took a glance at my camera's LCD and feeling satisfied with the results, I packed it up and called it a night.


The Mirrorless War against DSLRs

I don't intentionally go against the grain. It's just that I question everything. Call it a blessing or a curse, you decide. I live my life for me and by standards that coincide with who I am and who I want to be. I don't typically follow current trends unless it makes sense for what I want to do. I'm intrigued by mirrorless cameras, but at the moment, it doesn't make sense for me to incorporate one into my work flow.

Before I start, I'd like to clue you in on a very important fact that few people outside of the technology and photography blogosphere know or realize. Social media superstars receive free kick backs from companies for "reviewing" their products. Remember that next time your favorite blogger starts heavily promoting something.

Large companies like Sony are very eager to get their product into the hands of those who have a large following. The idea is, if you can get your product into the hands of the influential few who represent a mass following, large scale adoption will occur. It's a very power marketing strategy that a lot of companies are quickly catching onto. Consumers tend to trust the opinions of influential public figures whom they admire and look up to.

It seems everywhere I look I'm reading something about how mirrorless cameras are the wave of the future and how the DSLR is going the way of the dinosaur. Quite frankly, I don't get it with this war that's going on between the two crowds. To give you a more down to earth analogy, it would be like saying Honda is going to overtake Porsche. Both companies build great products that serve a common purpose, yet cover a completely different market.

In the end it matters very little what camera you use. What matters is the art you create with it. The style of your photography will dictate which type of camera is best to use.

Since I have an assortment of DSLR lenses and filters that I use, adding all this bulk to a mirrorless camera negates the primary advantage of using a small form factor mirrorless camera. There would be no point in me switching to the mirrorless format only to bulk it back up with my Lee filter system. If you aim to travel as lightly as possible with the notion that corrections and adjustments will be made in Photoshop, then a mirrorless camera is absolutely the way to go.

Sony did not manufacture its line of mirrorless cameras with the intent to overtake the DSLR market. Sony is targeting photographers who specifically want a highly portable 35mm format camera that will take great photos.

The traditional DSLR and the mirrorless cameras are aimed at serving two very different types of photographers. Perhaps one day the two paths will cross. Until that happens, expect the DSLR to stick around for awhile.


The Tides

The Tides | Laguna Beach, California

The Tides | Laguna Beach, California

Every day is a good day to be at the beach. I like to grab my favorite pair of flip flops, throw on a pair of cargo shorts, a t-shirt and just go. After a long day at work and three hours on the road, being able to kick off my shoes to feel the warm sand between my toes and the tide rushing past my feet is such a relaxing way to unwind from the day.


Table Rock Beach

Table Rock Beach | Laguna Beach, California

Table Rock Beach | Laguna Beach, California

I love exploring the coastline throughout Southern California. There are so many hidden beaches to find, all with a different view of the sunset. I get so excited when I discover another staircase that leads down to the ocean. Table Rock beach is a quiet little cove I found in Laguna Beach just off Coast Highway and Table Rock Drive. It's unique location and colorful sunsets make it really popular to shoot photos from and have weddings on the beach. Fun fact I discovered after researching this place, turns out crazy people like to climb to the top of the surrounding cliffs and dive into the ocean.


   Older Posts