No matter what style of photography is your strong suit, every photographer should dabble in the fine art realm at least once or twice in his/her career. Fine art photography is all about thinking outside of the box, while at the same time, keeping things simple. If you think that since you are going to be traveling you have to sacrifice a fine art style and instead adopt typical [but usually epic] travel photos, you are dead wrong! Merging travel and landscape photography with a fine art style isn’t rocket science and can be accomplished by almost anyone! First, here is what you need to know to get started on your fine art travel photography journey:
Before the trip:
Keep your gear simple
What did we say the key to fine art photography was? Keep it simple. If you are going to be traveling, you will have limited space on what you can bring and that is okay! There is no need to bring flash, fancy set ups, or reflectors! We shoot with a Sony A99 camera, but any mid-range DSLR camera will work perfectly fine. Besides your lenses, you literally only need your camera and mother nature to conquer fine art travel photography!
Limit your lenses
Who doesn’t want to bring every lens in their collection?! If it was an option, we sure would! As a traveler, you have to pick and choose what is most important to you. If we had to suggest a lens for you to pack, it would be either a 35 mm or a 50mm because both give your images a good crop and allow for a fantastic balance between subject and landscape. Aside from those lenses, your favorite telephoto lens is a must so you can be further away from your subject in order to capture depth of field. Of course, we realize every photographer has his/her own preferences when it comes to lens choices, but these are our top suggestions.
Choose a model/tripod
Although there are many different types of “fine art,” the style we are talking about here requires a human subject. If you are traveling with a buddy, see if this human can serve as the “model” for your photos. Make sure this person is flexible, able to take direction, and willing to try new things.
If you are traveling solo or don’t have a human willing to pose for you, a tripod is always handy! Set up the tripod and camera, and either use a timer or a shutter remote to take your own epic “selfies!” Although a little pricey, Manfrotto has good compact travel tripods. All you have to do is adjust wardrobe accordingly, depending on your gender or the gender of your traveling companion.
Gather your wardrobe
This is actually one of the hardest parts about being a fine art travel photographer! Figuring out what either A. you or B. your subject is going to wear! The thrift store is a great place to start. Go consistently and choose a few in your area to frequent and you should be able to snag a few good things. You will want clothing that is suitable for travel. Although we have traveled with bulky wedding gowns, we suggest vintage nightgowns or thinner wedding gowns as a good place to start.
After a few trips to your local Goodwill, you should find at least 1-2 packable garments. No matter your gender/the model’s gender, you should head out to your local Ross/TJ Maxx and get yourself a pair of fleece lined leggings to wear under the outfit if it is going to be chilly or wet out. Although they are found in the women’s department, they are unisex and are truly worth the $5!
Research your destination
If you are going for a shorter trip or at least have a plan where you will be traveling, it doesn’t hurt to search nature areas, hiking trails, public transport that takes you to the location, and weather temperature. Although many of our shoots are super spontaneous, with locations that just happen to be stumbled upon, we never complain if we have an idea of bus time tables and the epic vistas we will eventually come across!
During the trip:
Consider time of day
When shooting with natural light, sunset or sunrise are generally the best times of day to shoot outdoors. However, when traveling, you don’t always have the luxury of choosing when you stumble across something fantastic. If you are planning to go out and shoot, try to plan shoots in the deep forest for around noon or when the sun is high in the sky for the best filtered light. Shooting a field or oceanside cliffs? Sunset or sunrise will be your best friend. If you are shooting yourself or your subject in a mountain setting, be sure to look out for shadows. An hour or two before the start of sunset is the best time for shooting mountains in order to avoid half of the valley being completely covered in shadows.
Don’t forget to check out what time the sun sets. You don’t want to start a hike a noon when you plan to shoot along the way at sunset, and the sun doesn’t end up setting until 9pm. Of course, if you traveling and you come across something super cool and you know you won’t be back, shoot it no matter the conditions and deal with it in post-production when you get home!
Pay attention to your settings
Settings are the single most important part of your camera! We cannot overstate this enough! If you don’t understand the settings on your camera model, Youtube some demos and then go out and shoot with trial and error!
When you are shooting fine art travel photography, you are going to want to get the best scenery in the background, so you will often have to compensate for where the sun is/is not with the settings on your camera. If you stumble across a beautiful beach and the sun is super high, you are going to want to shoot your subject/yourself with a higher shutter speed but lower ISO. When shooting at sunset, aim for an ISO anywhere between 320-800, depending on your camera’s ISO sensitivity. For example, if you notice that your images become grainy at 800 ISO, this means that you should shoot at a lower shutter speed to lessen the grainy quality of the photo. Don’t forget to have a steady hand if you are shooting at very low shutter speeds such as 1/100 or below.
Think about depth-of-field
Your aperture will depend on what type of background you are shooting. Do you want the background to be more in-focus or would you prefer the depth-of-field to be less prominent? As a general rule of thumb, you are going to want more depth-of-field/a less blurry background in mountain settings so that you can see all of the detail in the landscape. With beaches, it is okay to shoot less depth-of-field/have a more blurry background since the scenery is more consistent.
Always be prepared
Going for a hike? Bring wardrobe and your camera gear. Going for a hike when the weather doesn’t look good/it is too cold/it is really far? Trust us, bring your wardrobe and gear anyway or you may end up having to hike back a few miles to retrieve it because the hike is just too epic to pass up. Moral of the story: always always bring your gear/clothing because you just never know!
Guess what? The setting is probably gorgeous until you get ready to shoot and then clouds cover the mountain, the sun hides away, or the waves die down. Don’t worry, remain flexible! Maybe you will get to shoot the same location everyone else has shot in the rain instead of the bright sun and it will be unique to you! Although it can be disappointing to not get the shot you originally intended, you still have the chance to make the shoot all your own and you shouldn’t give up now.
No matter how much planning you do, you will always find something spectacular along the way. If you are hiking to a certain destination, it is a good idea to mark off all the epic spots along the way, shoot your first-choice, and then head back and shoot all of the secondary shots on your way back. If you shoot all the spots along the way, you may get to your first-choice too late and will be left out in the dark. Traveling is truly about the journey, not always about the destination. Always keep your eye out for unique areas to shoot, and pull over to the side of the road and go shoot if you have to.
Keep your model’s health in mind
Whether you are shooting self-portraits or you have a human in tow who is willing to model, consider his/her health and well-being. Bare skin can only be exposed for so long in certain temperatures. For example, if you are shooting in Iceland or in the winter, you should only shoot for about 10-15 minute shoots per location. Remember that after each shoot, the model, or your own, body temperature will slowly drop, meaning that just because the first location was able to be shot for 30 minutes, the model may only be able to handle 10 by the third location.
If you are shooting on frozen, cold, or craggy ground, let the model wear thin flip flops and edit them out in post-production. Remember the fleece lined leggings from Ross? Now is the time to use them if the weather is cold! Even if the weather is warmer, you could be shooting a waterfall or a windy location and the subject’s body temperature still has the potential to drop. Be vigilant and considerate.
Throw modesty to the wind
Okay, be as modest as you can, but you or your subject is probably going to have to change in the elements, unless either of you want to do an entire hike in the wardrobe choice, which is admirable but doubtful. Having a location near the road is always helpful because changing can be done in the car, but this is a rare case, especially in a foreign country. Chances are, wardrobe changes will have to be done on the side of a trail. For the most modest process, put a dress on over pants, take pants off, hold up front of dress, take top off, put dress straps on, complete! If you or your subject is the kind of person who needs to change in complete privacy, this life might not be for you!
Don’t try too hard
Fine art travel photography is supposed to be as un-staged as possible. Don’t worry about hair, makeup, or fancy set ups. Don’t worry about much of anything! Don’t plan a mood board or spend hours setting up a shot with props etc. Your goal is to showcase the landscape you are shooting, just with a subject and a simple fine art twist. You aren’t supposed to move tons of flowers into a shot, bring props from home, or otherwise transform the location from its original state. The most we will let you do is snap a twig that is in your way.
After the trip:
Back up the photos
If you don’t bring a computer/drive with you on your travels, back up your photos as soon as you get back to your home or your home base. You did all that work and you won’t want to lose anything in a freak accident.
Make sure you edit your photos true to the environment that you shot them in. This is fine art photography, don’t over-edit or over exaggerate the location. You are going to want to make the image look as natural as possible while adding your own artistic feel. You aren’t shooting conceptual, you are shooting fine art travel photography, and with travel photography, you want to give the viewer a glimpse into your travels and your environment. Don’t muddy the look of your photos with over-editing. Looking for more in-depth help on fine art editing? TJ’s tutorial will help you unlock tons of secrets you never knew! You can find it HERE.
No matter what happens, it is important to remember to have fun and be safe! No one cares how epic your photos are if you are sick or if you fell off the side of a cliff. Always remember to keep things simple, un-staged, and as natural as possible.
Are you a fine art travel photographer? We would love to hear your tips as well! Have you tried these tips? How did they work for you? Let us know in the comments! As always, if you have any questions at all, feel free to contact us! We love feedback.