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chris stevens travel blogger backpacker banter photographer

Photographing Your Travels – Some Tips And Kit Advice

I often get asked for advice on how to take better photos or what camera kit you should take travelling with you – so here’s some of my top tips

The world of taking pictures is a fast paced one and the evolution of photography is one that has jumped in leaps and bounds recently – especially with the digital age and the competitive market of the smartphone.

Having completed a degree in documentary photography it’s safe to say I’m a bit more clued up than your average traveller on the art of image creation – it’s something that I have a huge passion for and you can ask anyone that travels with me…I’m ALWAYS taking pictures!

So I thought I’d pass on some of my favourite photography tips and also let you in on what I carry in my kit bag to help you prepare for your trip, find a camera that suits your style and hopefully take some better images in the process!


Some Basic Rules

There are some really easy, basic rules that you can practice that will make a huge difference to your travel photos. They’re not hidden secrets, but they’re often overlooked and undervalued by many people.

travel photography tips rule of thirds backpacker advice
The Rule Of Thirds Grid

The first is the rule of thirds. For me this is the easiest tip to jump your photography up a few notches as it helps the balance and composure of ALL your images – no matter what you’re taking pictures of or which camera you’re using – as it’s based on how our eyes

Simply put it is splitting your framing into a 3 x 3 grid – creating 9 areas. In fact most cameras and even smartphones have the option of having this grid displayed, I shoot with it all the time.

Once you have this on screen the trick is to use the grid to ‘weight’ your image within individual or section of the grid.

For example – if you’re shooting a landscape image try having something of interest in the far right hand 3 grid spaces, like a palm tree, or even a person looking out over the scene.

Shooting a boat sitting on the water? Having the horizon cut through the middle 3 spaces and centred directly in the middle with give the maximum sense of space.

You can also use this grid to help setup the lines in your images too – the most commonly used version of this is with the horizon line, but it can also work with diagonals and vertical lines too – go get creative!


Master The World Of Aperture!

cambodia family portrait backpacker asia
A Small F Stop Number Blurs The Background And Focuses On The Subject

The aperture control of more high end cameras is a great creative tool for you to utilise. In non technical terms this simply controls the amount of focus (or even more simply put – blur!) there is in an image and it’s a great tool for detail and portrait photography.

The mode that I use most often is labelled “Av Mode/Priority” on most camera – it’s a lazy but effective way of making the most of aperture settings as you set that and the camera calculates the  shutter speed accordingly!

In a nutshell the lower the aperture number (such a f1.8) the more blur there is outside of the point your focused on, the higher the number (like f22) the more is in focus.

So if you’re creating closely framed portraits a low aperture really draws the focus into your subject by blurring out the background.

On the flip side if you’re dabbling in landscape photography a larger aperture allows more of the scene to be in focus, which is great for view points and capturing bigger scenes.

If you can nail the rule of thirds and aperture you’re be well on your way to creating more striking, beautiful images!


What Kit Do I Use?

So you’ve got your photo composing skills down and you’re getting all creature with your f stops…so what kit do you need to pack wit your on your travels?

Well ere’s what’s currently in my kit bag;

  • Canon 7D + 18-55mm lens and 10-20mm les
  • GoPro Hero 4 (Silver Addition)
  • Canon G7X
  • iPhone 6
lifeproof iphone 5S ipad nuud case review (6 of 8)
The iPhone – Easily My Most Used Camera!

Now for me each of these cameras has a very specific purpose, but it’s also a costly kit bag (not to mention a large amount of my luggage allowance!) and cost of course will be one of the big deciding factors on what you’ll want to bring along.

Personally if I really had to declutter my kit bag I’d opt for the iPhone 6 and the GoPro – they’re easily the 2 cameras that I shoot with the most. Yup – despite having a full blown DSLR in my kit bag it rarely gets used!

In fact the 7D is what I refer to as my ‘willy waving camera’ – it’s there for when I need to look the part or really need a high level of creative control over the camera settings.

95% of all the images you see on this blog and my social media channels are shot using my iPhone or GoPro!

whale shark snorkelling oslob cebu philippines asia
GoPro Whale Shark Selfie!

Why? Because the iPhone is the easiest to use and it’s always in my pocket. It’s discreet enough to shoot candid shots, but the latest iPhone is also packing some serious punch spec wise too – more than enough for what I use most of my images for.

It does, of course, also come with the added advantage of being connected to things like Facebook and Instagram so I can shoot and share as things are happening in front of me – perfect for blogging!

The GoPro on the other hand has the HUGE advantage of being able to handle pretty much anything I throw at it and is the only camera that I can conveniently tag along to lifestyle…which involves a lot of water based activity! It’s waterproof to 40m (more than enough for scuba diving and freediving) and comes with a heap of mounting options so you can really get creative.

Plus for someone that travels solo a lot the pole mounts are the ideal selfie tool!

Admittedly the G7X hasn’t been in my bag for long (I’ve been testing it out for a collaboration I’m working on with Canon) so it’s still finding it’s place in my shooting but it’s already proving a great mid ground between the iPhone and the 7D – lots of creative control packed into a small and tidy package.


So What Should You Buy?

A lot of people have emailed me asking what camera they should buy for their travels – but honestly there’s no single one size fits all answer. Ideally your camera should be an extension of you and how you want to shoot – so it’s a very personal choice.

You can however start narrowing it down quite easily with the following 3 questions;

  • How much can your afford to spend
  • How much creative control do you need
  • How will you be using it
chris stevens travel blogger backpacker banter photographer
DSLR – Great For Some Situations, Not So Convenient For Others!

Cost is obviously going to write off a lot of things like high end DSLRs which can easily set you back a grand or more! If your budget does stretch to DSLR costs I also suggest you put that money into better lenses rather than blowing it all on a high end body – the glass you put in front is much more important!

The creative control will also dictate a lot too – if you’re not interested in fiddling around or experimenting with things like shutter speed, ISO or need control major control over focal points then lower end cameras are going to be fine. If this is a priority then you’re going to want to get into the DSLR scene.

Finally how you’re going to be using it is something you’ll need to consider a lot too. If you’re just wanting to take some quick holiday snaps then a small point and shoot or smartphone is a no brainer.

kruger national park backpacker trave safari south africa
Even On Safari I Still Snapped On My iPhone!

If you’re spending a lot of time on the beach then something that’s waterproof might be worth considering.

So when it comes down to the one to buy ff you’re not leaving in the next few weeks then I suggest heading into a camera store and testing them out.

You maybe find handling a big chunky DSLR doesn’t feel right, or that picking up one camera and snapping a few shots instantly becomes the one, or just ask your friends if you can have a look at their cameras and if they’re super nice borrow them for a few days.


The main rule to remember is spending a lot of money or buying a top end DSLR is NOT going to make our images better!


Practice, experimenting and more practice is what makes you a better photographer. The best camera is the one you have on you – hence why my iPhone is my favourite device to shoot with!


If you’d like a more in depth look at what I shoot with check out my backpacker travel camera kit list here or even my full review of the GoPro.

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