7 TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS FROM A PRO By Jay Dickman

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7 TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS FROM A PRO

By Jay Dickman, Olympus Visionary

The camera can reinforce and reinvent the reasons we travel. By learning to “see photographically,” I believe we are able to more thoroughly enjoy the world around us. By seeing photographically, the viewer is processing the scene, determining what is drawing their interest: palette, composition, moment or a combination of all three.

Torres del Paine National Park, in Chile, my daughter, Maggie sits at the base of the “Horns” an iconic location in this rugged and remote place.

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As a professional in this business for 45+ years, I thought I’d share a few ideas that may make your travel experience a bit easier and fruitful.

• TRAVEL LIGHT

Right out the gate, I’ll say that one of the first rules of travel photography is “travel light.” Minimize the amount of gear you are carrying, not only will a huge bag and large cameras draw a lot of attention, but it may interfere with that connection you hope to make with your potential subject.
The majority of my work is travel photography; last year I spent more time out of country than in. I primarily shoot with the E-M1, and M.7-14mm f2.8, M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f2.8 PRO and M.40-150mm f2.8 PRO lenses – all very weather-resistant, since weather can provide great shooting conditions if you are ready!

Man sitting inside shaded tree hollow. This is a member of the Hadzatribe, one of the documented oldest bloodlines on earth that number just under 1,000 people. Living as their ancestors did, these hunter-gatherers feed off of the land. This hunter-gatherer was resting in thjs Boabab tree in the midday heat.

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I always work with two cameras, using a BlackRapid “Duo” strap system, that distributes the weight evenly on my shoulders. By using this two-camera setup, I find that I’m actually minimizing what I’m carrying as I have ready two lenses to cover a range from wide to telephoto. This lets me concentrate on the subject, not the extra gear in my bag. What I love about the Olympus, it gets “out of the way” in the shooting process, becoming an extension of my eye.

Another reason I love my Olympus OM-Ds: the camera is small and unobtrusive. This is really important for that travel & location photographer, as I want to be as “invisible” as possible when shooting. Plus, being so small, I can carry my OM-D’s all day without breaking my back. What’s the best camera to have? The one that’s in your hands when needed.

In the Ngorongoro Highlands of Tanzania, a Maasai warrior rests under an “umbrella” tree

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A young Maasai Princess in her hut near the Ngorongoro Highlands of Tanzania

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If wandering with one camera, the E-M10 Mark II with the 12-40 Pro lens is an unbeatable combo. Very inconspicuous, and with a very workable zoom range, in addition to being quite fast, this package allows you to work so many situations involving street photography.

• PREPARE IN ADVANCE

Make sure that you have all of the basics cove red: batteries charged, memory card ready to go, formatted and the previous days’ shoot downloaded.

As a travel photographer, it’s important to have an understanding of the place in which I’m looking for images. When shooting a National Geographic story, about 80% of my assignment is spent with research, so when I’m finally in the field I’ll have a good sense of what’s going on, what is polite or rude, and foundation of the culture. I don’t want to make avoidable errors that can cause problems, and the internet provides an amazing amount of information for a photographer.

Near the Serengeti of Tanzania, a Maasai woman poses with her young goat

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Angkor Wat in Cambodia, with sunrise

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Taj Mahal in Agra, India. Morning is a great time to visit this World Heritage site, as light can be beautiful and crowds may be fewer

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• BE THE EARLY BIRD

When photographing in small villages or towns, and wanting to photograph in the almost always rich area of plazas and town centers, get there early. Best to be part of the landscape when the place starts “waking up.” Walking in later as an outsider (and loaded with gear) may make you the center of attention, which is often the opposite of what you want to be.

Early morning horse drive at the CM Ranch in Dubois, Wyoming

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In the northeast corner of Namibia, the Bushmen (Referred to as either Juǀ’hoan or San tribe) live in very primitive ways. This is one of the oldest continuous bloodlines on earth, dating back at least 1,000 years. Here, two hunter-gatherers build a fire for their evening meal

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In Namibia, a female member of the Himba tribe crosses the center of her village in this very remote and arid part of Namibia. Himba women have this incredible method of wearing their hair. Using mud and other minerals, they prepare an elaborate paste that they not only use for their hair, but to bath themselves with.

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• MAKING EYE CONTACT

Often when photographing on the street, and you see a possible situation start to take form, frame the scene and let the subject walk into your viewfinder. If a great situation is happening, I usually shoot first then decide if I want to take it to the next level and approach my subject. Making eye contact is one of the first things I do here. You’ll know quickly if your attention is not welcome. I find that the eye contact is critical, as I can usually further the possibility of extending the shooting situation. You’ll learn, very quickly, when someone doesn’t want to be approached. Learn when to cut your losses and back away. I find that a genuine interest in the subject can go a long-ways, no matter who this may be. I’ve approached the beggars on the streets of third-world countries, as well as the very well to do in beautiful locations, and by dealing with that potential photo subject with dignity, you can really open the possibilities.

In Petra, Jordan, amid the ancient ruins, a Bedouin man stops for a portrait.

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Portrait of a beautiful young girl at a market near Inle Lake in Myanmar.

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A Maasia herdsman with his cattle, near the Ngorongoro Highlands of Tanzania

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• SHARE YOUR IMAGES

This simple, but often ignored process, can help create a bond between you and the subject. Someone who initially may be a bit unsure of your intent, may be coerced into giving you more time when seeing on the camera monitor what you are creating. And, try to obtain an address or email and send them copies of the images you’ve created of them.

In later afternoon light, a giraffe crosses the incredible landscape of the Palmwag Concession which abuts a national preserve.

Glacier near Greenland in

Flamingos near Luderitz, Namibia.

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A sea lion leaps out of the water near Luderitz in Namibia. Sea kayakers have the opportunity of seeing these majestic mammals from water’s surface.

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A llama checks out the camera at Machu Picchu in Peru.

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• ALWAYS BE READY

When shooting on the street or in public areas, have all your camera settings in place, nothing worse than that great moment presented to you when your gear isn’t ready. My thinking has always been that when the camera is slung on my body, a switch goes on in my head: I’m thinking and seeing photographically. In these situations, I’ll have the sleep mode set to 3 or 5 minutes, and if things are percolating, I’ll keep touching the shutter button to make sure the camera is awake and ready to shoot in an instant. I’ll also make sure I’m in the proper shooting mode, manual, shutter, program or aperture priority..this is up to you, and that my exposure is in a realistic range for the type of image I’m hoping to capture. On the streets, I’ll often use Shutter Priority, as I am concerned with motion and moment. Everyone has their favorites, and different situations will demand the appropriate mode.

A young woman in front of the Taj Mahal in India.

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A wrangler, Bryce Street, at the CM Ranch in Dubois, Wyoming with huge clouds building behind her.

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A group of wranglers driving horses across Jakey’s Creek at the CM Ranch in Dubois, Wyoming.

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A sea turtle swims past scuba divers off of Millennium Atoll in the South Pacific

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Off of the South Pacific island of Rangiroa, a “tornado” of barracuda form a defensive position as divers approached.

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In Cusco, Peru, a young couple who were just married stop for photos in the old town square of this city sitting at 11,152 feet

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• KNOW WHEN TO SHOOT & WHEN TO WALK AWAY

Very importantly, know when to back out or leave a scene or situation. Realistically, not every area in which you might like to photograph will be the safest place to take you and your valuable camera. And, learning to have your “radar” up in terms of safety is paramount. Also, not every situation that may be in front of the camera will be appropriate to photograph. For example, if I see kids whom I may want to photograph, the first thing I do is look for parents or someone obviously in charge. Be very careful photographing kids without permission, you could end up in trouble, with the parents or with the law. Learn the local mores and traditions, so you’ll know not to make a simple mistake that could be construed as improper or insulting.

A Maasai walks up a hill inside the Ngorongoro Highlands of Tanzania.

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In Marrakech, Morocco, this gentleman’s job is to feed the fires that heat the waters for baths near the Souk of this ancient city. He feeds fuel to the fire from his position below the baths

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In the Tonga group of islands in the South Pacific, a young girl leaps into the warm waters of this stunning place

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On the grounds of the Taj Mahal, there are two side mosques that abut the famous building. This is the side mosque that sits on the west side, as it starts to appear out of a morning fog that came off of the Yamuna River in Agra, India

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My Olympus camera has given me the reason to approach many, many people in many different countries. This is common in my work, to see someone who looks interesting or is doing something interesting, and ask permission to photograph them. Don’t be disheartened if you get turned down…just move on, keep an eye out for that next interesting character, and try again. You will have success eventually. And, the friendships I’ve developed over the years strictly due to the camera number in the dozens. Isn’t this why we travel, to get under that “veneer” of tourism and be able to touch on something real? The camera can be your passport, your entrée, into this world.

Jay Dickman

49 Comments

  1. Travel Light YES! My Trinity of lens would be: New 25mm f1.2 & 12=1–,, f4.0 + my wish fora prime 7mm f4.0 tiny like and leightweight. Yhen I’d add the new EM1 Mk II body.

    Currently I own EM1 and OMD 10 bodies, 12-40mm f2.8 pro zoom, Pan Leica 25mm f1.4, and two cheap zooms: 12-50mm f5/6macro and 40-150mm RII,

    I have ownwd most of the OLY primes but sold them for the one lens solution of the pro zoom.

    I used to carry Canon 5D and L zooms and primes.

    Check out this site review also by OLY Master: Neil Grany Buchan on traveling to Cuba with both Oly M$# and Leica gear. Amazing conclusions and that was with the EM1,

    Food photographer for Veggie Power Burgers cookbook and Meditation Quarterly for 16 years. Taking pics since 1954.

    I loved Jay’s entire review and great travel tips. Very true and useful.

  2. Jay you know your images are worth it when your grandkids go woooow :-))

    That’s the only barometer : forego pulizer, forego awards, forego pubications.

    Seeing kids go wooooow is the prize !

  3. Jay, you are so modest. I don’t think people on this site (especially those commenting) know that you are a Pulizer Prize Winner (1983)….I find it a real honour to read a post from you here on Steve’s site! Awesome! Fantastic photos, and fantastic advice!! Thanks!!

  4. Some really good photos
    My favourite being the early morning ranch, the souk fire man and the Berber portrait.
    Enjoyed the article!
    Thanks!

  5. As always you produce such beautiful photos.
    Your discussion is most enjoyable.
    Have you had the opportunity to use the new camera Olympus is bringing out this year? If so, what are your impressions?
    Best wishes, Steve

  6. I could not stand the E-M1 camera. The menus made me crazy. Nevertheless, these are wonderful photos.

      • I don’t understand comments such as these and find them quite silly. Why comment at all? Essentially, Jay mentions the Olympus system during his “Travel Light” photo tip (tip #1) and then goes through his remaining tips (six tips!!) without any mention of Olympus. It’s also clearly stated that he’s an Olympus Visionary. There’s one final nod to Olympus in his closing paragraph, big deal.

        What this tells me is that you completely failed to comprehend any of the excellent advice Jay has provided, instead focusing in on and not getting past the one area, his camera system, that you may not agree with. I think it’s absolutely fantastic that Steve got Jay to contribute this article to his site and I look forward to more posts like it.

        Finally, when I visit this site I see ads all the time. In fact, I saw a Sony ad placed halfway into Jay’s article as I read it. I don’t shoot Sony, but I’m certainly not going to complain about the ad or stop visiting Steve’s site because I don’t want to see Sony ads.

    • It says in the running head that he is an Olympus Visionary which I presume is like being a Sony Artisan of Light.

  7. Jay- The photos brought back fond memories of our trip with Nat Geo Around the World. Thanks I can’t wait to connect with you on another trip soon!
    Scott Alperin

  8. Great images as always Jay. I also carry two OMD EM-1’s with the PRO lenses, always the 7-14 f2.8 and the 12-40 f2.8, Seems that some folks don’t realize what a fine optics company Oly is. In the micro four-thirds world, everything is smaller and lighter including the f2.8. It’s not a monster lens like on a DSLR but very compact yet with the speed and IQ to rival any. If people have an image of Oly and the EM1 from years ago, yes it was a good camera. But check out Oly today withe the OMD E=M1 and find a whole new world of quality you never knew existed.

  9. Excellent images, Jay. But do you really think, two cameras with big f/2.8 zooms around your neck keep you invisible?

      • Yes, that GF1 post is one of the greatest. Clearly shows the potential of the original m43 idea. One GF1 with 20mm f1.7, one creative photographer, and the job is done at a very high level…

        Nowdays you may add the 14 f2.5 and the 42.5 f1.7, and you have an even stronger potential in still a very small package.

        • How about the new Oly 12 – 100mm f4 PRO IS ZOOM. NEIL GRANT BUCHAN REFERRED TO IT AS A BAG FULL OF PRIMES. I’d love a 7mm f4 small prime.

  10. As an owner of an EM-1 with the same trinity lenses, very nice to know these really can be used for PRO work. Inspirational images, Jay, from technique, composition, and understated processing. Thank you for sharing.

    • It`s the glass, as a Micro- and Endoscope manufacture Olympus knowledge is based on making sharp and microcontrast lenses tiny.

    • Hopefully that’s just sarcasm about needing full frame! In my experience M43 is a very capable system.

  11. thank you for giving effort and time, photos and advice on what is mostly amateur visiting site
    interesting how your pictures have different feeling from Steve McCurry even when subject is same

  12. Thanks for an inspiring article Jay especially on approaching people we want to take a shot.

    During my trip to Ho Chi Minh city last month, I sat on a typical low chair by the sidewalk with a friend next to a local gentleman to sip local ice coffee. Even though he doesn’t speak English, we managed to communicate with simple key words like where his hometown is and before long he offered me a cigarette. We then had photos taken together and I took some shots of him. That to me was the highlight of my trip and to connect with the locals makes all the difference.

  13. Great post. Have not been to any of these places but hope to get to one or two…one day.
    Inspirational!. Thanks.

  14. Like the previous post I just looked at the pictures as well again and again -then I read the text. Wonderful cameras used to have an Olympus OM-1 many years ago and it was wonderful then.
    Great photographers still use Olympus it seems.

  15. Great images Jay!

    You already mentioned it, but tip number eight should be that you should always have a second camera. I travel much lighter than you do, so for me good quality pocketable as a sub is enough. When I see your work I am glad not to be a pro. I have been to many places seen in these pictures but the difference between my results and yours is at least that 80% research.
    And I can travel even much lighter. No zooms, just a two or three of those tiny m4/3 primes. I love them dearly, also because using them most people see me as a friendly guy. Not as much as when I use my Rolleiflex of course, because then often people are getting so curious that they want to be photographed. (And then they become disappointed when they don’t get a polaroid or even a view on the lcd to see the result).

  16. Excellent article with very nice photos.
    I have found that the best way to share a picture is not by asking for an email address (some may not even have electricity!) but to take along a Fuji Instax camera, or Instax printer that your camera or phone can wirelessly connect to and give them a print there and then.
    You can also start the ‘session’ that way as it disarms people as they watch the image develop in front of their eyes, allowing you to maybe get more cooperative shots than you would have.

  17. Thanks for these tips, Jay.
    I’m a travelling photographer, too, and just want to stress your points about making eye contanct and knowing when to put the camera down. It takes gutts to approach people, but often I feel it takes even more gutts to put your camera down when shooting is not appropriate. Many tourists struggle with this, in my experience.
    A lot of time, taking a picture of a stranger leads to conversations, to valuable insights or maybe even to friendship. So yes, eye contact and a friendly smile can really open a whole new world. You just have be able to speak with the locals, so sometimes it is very handy to have a local guide or translator.
    All the best, Ariel

  18. I was so enthralled by your images that first time round I hardly noticed your tips!! But I will read again – and look again………….

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