Travel and photography seem like hobbies made for one another. They are both about exploration and having fun. However, doing two things at once is never a recipe for fun or success even when the two things are related. Yet, the multi-tasking aspect of travel photography is unavoidable. In this post, I explore how I focus my effort on traveling instead of photography. By doing so, I enjoy photography more and ultimately produce more interesting pictures in the end.
The One Thing
As Gary Keller said in his book, The One Thing, people always achieve the most when they focus on one most important thing at a time. For travel photography, what should be this one most important thing? Most people would argue that anyone can travel as long as they have the time and money. But not everyone can take good pictures and have fun because photography requires passion, expensive cameras and years of experience in addition to the time and money. Traveling seems easy while photography seems difficult.
From years of travel photography, I found that the opposite is true. Photography is easy but traveling is difficult. For the starter, traveling with cameras and lenses is exhausting depending on how big and expensive they are. Before traveling, I research what kind of photos I want to take. Taking photos that have already been taken before is boring, so I like to find less popular places that people don’t often go. This usually requires some exploring on the location. Carrying a heavy bag drains my energy very fast. The less I carry, the more I can explore new places.
In order to focus on traveling as the one thing and take new and interesting photos, I try to only bring the bare minimum with me.
Since I take photos purely just for fun, I do not need the perfections of full-size cameras. I can use a smartphone camera to get pictures that I am happy with. I am using LG G4. Despite the infamous boot loop problem, I am very happy with LG customer service. LG replaced my phone’s motherboard even after the warranty expired.
Beyond the Minimum
However, the lack of physical controls and the slow response speed on smartphones makes photography less engaging. So in place of a smartphone, I use a compact camera like the superzoom Panasonic FZ300 that has a lens with very wide zoom range. It is a fun camera that can take all type of photos such as landscape, macro, wildlife and even nebula without ever require lens change.
As versatile the superzoom cameras are, the only weakness is their lack of color range (dynamic range) and poor low-light performance. So it’s only good for outdoor photos in daytime.
For more demanding scenarios, I use Olympus and Panasonic interchangeable lens compact cameras known as Micro Four Third (MFT) system cameras. For my use case, these cameras have enough dynamic range and low-light sensitivity. There are several specialized lenses for these cameras for all kind of photography. The MFT telephoto lenses are very compact and easy to carry.
In addition to camera and lenses, I usually carry a tripod with me for long-exposure photos. By using cameras that are lightweight, the tripod can be lightweight as well. My preferred method of travel is on foot and public transportation. Carrying a small and light tripod makes another difference in the weight.
Travel with Little
Another advantage of small cameras is the low cost. I believe that when a person has more to lose, the person has more reasons to fear. A person who is afraid operates on cautions. Traveling is about taking risks to see explore things people don’t see often. A person with a defensive mindset avoids taking necessary risks to create interesting results.
Unless I am a monk who renounced everything, traveling with expensive items always make me afraid. I might forget them somewhere or someone might steal them. By using inexpensive cameras, I minimize risks should anything bad happen. By having this assurance, I can take risks and explore the unknowns.
Focus on Traveling
Other than looking at other people’s pictures (so that I can avoid taking the same pictures) and searching for locations, I do not plan much for travel. Plans don’t go as planned. When this happens, it ruins my expectation. I travel without much expectation so I am never disappointed.
The same philosophy applies to travel photography. I do not plan to get specific photos I want. When I have an image in mind I want, I often fail to see other images around me. For this reason, I missed several opportunities for good images that I didn’t plan for. Travel photography is about documenting the experience as genuinely as possible. I like to capture the images as they appear naturally. The only controls I have when taking pictures are my camera’s settings, where I point the camera, and when I press the shutter.
I do, however, plan on visiting places at the best time. For example, I wake up early for the twilight and golden hours. Even with this bit of planning, I do not have any expectation of certain pictures I want before arriving at the location and seeing it for myself. Weather, for example, could be unfavorable for a sunrise picture if the clouds completely block the horizon. For this reason, I try not to have an image in my mind before seeing the place. I focus on making the best image of what I see.
For people, I usually do not ask people to smile, pose or do anything they won’t do if I was not there. I try to be invisible as much as possible. Most modern compact cameras can take pictures in complete silence using electronic shutters. This helps make people less scared of being taken pictures of.
Travel photography is a fun hobby. It’s easy to try too hard on the photography part. Just have fun traveling first and great photos will come afterward. Trying using small cameras to capture the experience. Forget about the technicalities and have fun! Great photos come from an inspired photographer who live the experience.
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