25 Tips to Jumpstart Your Photography in 2017

Make 2017 Your Best Photographic Year Yet!

With the New Year upon us, many of us have told ourselves that we are going to improve our photography.  I know that I have done so.  Have you?  There is always something to learn, whether it’s how to use a particular camera setting, or some new-fangled trick in the digital darkroom.  This photography thing is a never-ending quest for knowledge. 

I love the start of a new year. It’s a symbolic reboot and it makes me think about everything I want to do in the next 12 months.  While I already wrote about that a bit, I didn’t go into too much detail…partly because some of this is fluid and partly because it’s impossible to predict.  But I did mention writing some longer form articles, and this is the first in that category for 2017.

Perhaps you got a new camera for Christmas, or perhaps your dream of visiting some far away destination is coming true in 2017.  Either way, your desire to capture great travel photos is probably high on your list.  It’s definitely atop mine.  Who doesn’t want to take great shots?  Whether they are for you and your family or for a wider audience, we are all driven by the desire to capture the stunning beauty we encounter while we travel.

I gave some thought to how I prepare for a trip and have put together this list of tips which will hopefully get you all set and ready to go capture some of the awesomeness that is waiting for you out there. 

These tips are based on my own experiences traveling around the world over the past 5+ years.  While it is not exhaustive - and being inspired by my own travels, it’s a very personal approach to things - this should help you stay the course and come home with images you are proud of.  Worst case, maybe it gives you a couple of ideas.

Take a read, feel free to disagree or offer suggestions, and go forth and capture.  Have a great year in photography, my friends.  There is so much beauty that awaits us.  We just have to get out the door and start shooting.

I broke this list of tips down into 4 categories and they are in a specific order: Plan, Arrive, Shoot, Process.  This is the way I look at things and how I approach my own photography.  Any photo trip, near or far, is an opportunity for capturing those fleeting moments of magic, and it always serves us well if we have a bit of a plan.  So, that’s where we start…


Plan

  1. Research the area in advance: Check out Flickr, Google Images or whatever your preference is and make sure you know WHAT you want to shoot and WHERE it is.  There is nothing worse than being somewhere and being unable to locate a particular spot.  
  2. Prioritize your spots and top alternates: After compiling all your targets into a list, prioritize them.  You never know how much time you will really have to shoot in the best conditions, and of course you want to get the most important stuff done. 
  3. Do the math (count the # of sunsets and sunrises): Most of us like to shoot the big stuff at the edges of the day, so count how many of those you will have and compare it to the number of sites and their location/orientation to the sun, and make a plan.
  4. Edit your list ruthlessly and focus on the ones you consider most important: This is another version of #2 above (pick your spots and top alternates), but based on the fact that you now know exactly how many sunrise/sunsets you will have to capture them.
  5. Plan your route: This is obvious, but there is nothing worse than shooting something, moving on and then realizing later that you missed something that was close by.  I use Google Maps and often print out a hard copy if I am not familiar with the city.  It really helps.
  6. Have a backup plan: Sometimes weather or other factors screw up everything.  Make a contingency plan.  If it’s raining, is there a great museum you can shoot in?  If it's too bright and sunny, can you shoot macros or architectural details?  Just be creative and exhaust every alternative.
  7. Get up early: I find sunrise is the best time for shooting famous landmarks in big cities, because all the tourists are still in bed.  Literally, this works every single time.  Never fails.

Arrive

  1. Slow down:  I often arrive somewhere after hurriedly walking there to get into position, which means I am short of breath.  Take a moment and breathe, calm down, and get into the moment.  You don’t want to be twitchy with a camera in hand. 
  2. Look around and get familiar: Resist the urge to start shooting the very second you get somewhere.  Take a moment, take in the scene, and plan your shots.
  3. Focus on your composition: Don’t just hurry to get something captured.  Think about what you are doing and not just how excited you are to be seeing it.  I know, it’s hard.  I'm as twitchy as they come, believe me.
  4. Check all of your settings: Is your ISO still on 2000 from something you shot last night?  Make sure you don’t take a bunch of shots with the wrong settings.
  5. Shoot RAW: This gives you more leverage for editing later.  You literally NEVER know what you might want to do with a photo a few years down the line.  I frequently go back to old photos and try stuff with them in newer tools.  Having raw files makes this a much better experience.

Shoot

  1. Use a tripod: Sure you can get clean shots handheld, but better safe than sorry, right?
  2. Use a cable release or remote release: This only works if you are on a tripod of course, but it further ensures you aren’t shaking the camera when you depress the shutter button.
  3. Start shooting.  See how long it took to get to this step?  ;-)
  4. Change things around and shoot it again: Now experiment a bit with your f/stop, composition, and more.  Mix it up a little.  I often capture better stuff after getting the shot I planned to get.  
  5. Consider your orientation - Now shoot it in portrait orientation instead of in landscape.  You will be surprised how this minor change can have a big impact on your shots.
  6. Experiment with the # of photos in your brackets: If you are firing brackets for HDR, don’t assume that your basic 3 exposures capture the full range of light.  Perhaps you need to move up to 5 or 7, depending on the scene.
  7. Don’t always center your brackets: I rarely shoot -2, 0, +2.  Generally I start a little darker, something like -3, -1, +1 or even -4, -2,0.  I find that the +2 exposure when brackets are centered is just too bright and thus pretty useless.
  8. Try some filters for long exposures: If you haven’t tried a 10 stop filter, you are missing out on a truly joyful experience.
  9. Take a lot of photos: They say your first 10,000 photos are your worst, although with digital it’s more like your first 100,000.  Practice, practice, practice.

Process

  1. Experiment with different techniques (process an image two or three times): I often take a single image and process it 2 or 3 different ways.  It gives me more experience with editing, which is good, but also I often come up with things I hadn’t thought of initially that I actually like.
  2. Try it in black and white: I have been a “big color” sort of photographer forever, but over the last year or so I have really started getting into monochromes, and they are just beautiful.
  3. Share and engage: Share your photos with your friends, or family, or online.  Ask for feedback and constructive criticism.  Don’t take anything personally.  Just enjoy the art of photography and the joy it brings you and others.
  4. Make yourself happy first: Isn’t this what it’s all about?  Be sure you are enjoying the entire process, because this should be fun.  Do whatever you want to do with your art, because that's your prerogative.  Find your own vision and express it.

Well friends, I hope this helps you make the most of your travel photography this year.  In many ways this is a reminder to myself, as I am as guilty as anyone about many of these tips.  I screw up a lot but usually figure it out before it’s too late!  Usually.  ;-)

In all seriousness, I wish you a productive and creative 2017.  Challenge yourself, learn some new things, go somewhere you haven’t been yet, experiment and screw up, and try again.  Take a shit-ton of photos.  This is art and should be fun, challenging, educational and eye-opening.  Go forth and create my friends.  There’s a kind of magic that happens when you do.