Professional photographer Mirjam Evers, co-founder of Photo Quest Adventures (PQA) worldwide photography workshops, has traveled to and photographed more than 75 countries. Yet among all her journeys one of the most memorable was PQA’s recent Myths and Mountains trip to Nepal. “Some of the credit has to go to the country itself, the beautiful people and the gorgeous landscapes surrounding the snowy peaks of the Himalaya,” Mirjam reflects, “but I doubt I would fully appreciate the wonder of Nepal without the expert guidance of Toni Neubauer and the local guides.”
Nepal is a photographer’s dream, and Myths and Mountains “went above and beyond our expectations,” Mirjam says. “We were introduced to the real Nepal. We communicated with many of the local residents, experienced the impressive READ community centers, and, of course, were taken to some of the most beautiful places in Nepal, in perfect lighting conditions.” The October 2012 trip was so successful that PQA is already planning a return to Nepal.
Whatever the destination the beauty of travel photography is that, as Mirjam says, “It can celebrate the landscape and the human condition while also exploring larger issues. The travel photographer can address political and social issues while, at the same time, sharing intimate, profound moments that exemplify humanity.”
For travelers wishing to improve their photography, Mirjam offers the following tips:
- Think outside the box. Shoot from the ground with a wide angle. Climb a tower and shoot from above. Wait for dawn or dusk, mount your camera on a tripod, and slow the shutter speed. Put your subject off to different places in the photograph. Images shot differently from the rest stand out.
- Shoot in RAW for greater flexibility in post-processing. Since RAW images take more space than JPEGs, you’ll need to travel with several high-capacity memory cards. Get into the habit of downloading your images to a laptop or photo storage device every night. Bring twice as much memory-card capacity as you expect to need.
- Choose which lenses you bring carefully. If you only have the room or budget to select one glass, opt for a fast zoom such as an 18-200 mm or 28-300 mm. If you have extra room or would prefer a wider choice consider the following: a portrait prime lens (e.g., 85 mm), a wide-angle lens (e.g., 24-70 mm), and a telephoto (e.g., 70-200 mm).
- Travel light. Bring just one camera body (unless you have room for a spare), lots of memory cards, a lightweight tripod, a portable data storage unit, a pocket-sized compact camera, a flash, a selection of lenses, and a durable camera bag. “Less is more,” says Mirjam. “Many people tend to over-pack camera equipment thinking they may need that lens or that flash just in case. However, I would recommend trying to bring as little as possible. I usually bring one wide zoom lens (for example, a 24-70 mm f2.8 lens) and one small prime lens (usually a 20mm f1.4 lens). This lets me take wide shots that capture landscapes and buildings but also lets me carry a light portrait lens that doubles as a low-light lifesaver.”
- Back up your data. Bring plenty of memory cards because there’s nothing worse than trying to delete some pictures you took earlier in the middle of a trip because you ran out of memory. If you have a small netbook or a backup external drive, bring that along so you can download your pictures as you go.
- Catch the light in people’s eyes. If you choose to photograph your subject looking head on, you must capture the spark, the life, and the magic in their eyes.
- Use a wide aperture. This travel photography tip applies primarily to DSLR camera users. Unless you care about the backdrop, give as much focus as possible to your subject by using a wide aperture. The lower the “f-number,” the wider the aperture on your camera, and the less depth of field you get. Letting in as much light as possible with a low f-number will blur the background and cause a subject to “pop” more in the photo.
- Leave your self-consciousness at home. You will get good pictures when you are experiencing new places and cultures first-hand, not when you are watching from the sidelines. Jump in, try new things, be brave, say hello, and stay open to new experiences.
- Approach people with warmth and an open mind and show respect for their environment and culture. This can help to establish a certain amount of trust. Familiarize yourself with the local dress code and take the necessary steps to fit in. Buy and wear local clothing if you can. Don’t wear clothes that make you stand out, and stay away from bold colors, logos and definitely anything sexy. Leave the jewelry at home as well as clothing that screams “money.” As it is, you are traveling with expensive camera equipment. You don’t want to be a walking billboard for thieves. Rather than carry a purse, wear a fanny pack or backpack.
- Engage and try to make a connection with people before taking pictures. Spend some time with your subjects. Learn how to say at least “hello” and “May I make a photograph” in the local language. Obviously, a language barrier can make it difficult to engage in any kind of conversation before you take their picture, but a gesture asking permission, or an exchange of any kind, will help.
In the end, Mirjam says, “Good travel photographs are images that transcend idyllic landscapes or ‘exotic’ looking people. Instead, truly successful images communicate a shared experience between the place, the photographer and the viewer. Travel photography is an opportunity to learn that despite our differences, we are all just human.”