6 Travel Photography Tips [IP34]

In Episode 34 of the Improve Photography Podcast, Jim and Dustin give 6 travel photography tips and then answer listener questions about Photoshop actions and custom brushes, watermarking your photos, CTO gel, and more.

Guide to Episode 34

Jim just got back from an awesome trip to Hawaii and would like to share some tips for photographers who are travelling. After the tips, they guys answer a few listener questions. Have a question for the podcast? Submit it here!

[1:05] 6 Travel Photography Tips


  1. Plan your locations. Look on forums or Facebook pages for whatever location you're going to, and get recommendations from actual people of good places to shoot. But a warning: be careful of places that are beautiful, but not really a great place to shoot photography. Some places (like an overlook), your cell phone will do just as well as your DSLR. Some landscapes just can't be captured well by the camera, because there really isn't anything of interest in the foreground; all you're going to capture is the distance. So be sure to look at photos of recommended locations online to get a sense of what it looks like and whether or not this will be a location to which you'd want to bring your gear. This doesn't mean you have to skip these locations – just don't drag all your photography gear along.

When you're going to a new photography location, do a Google search for photography workshops in that location. The people who are teaching these workshops are generally pretty knowledgeable and have been to these locations. You can often find a schedule with some great details that you wouldn't get otherwise.

  • Pack carefully! Jim's photography travel suitcase of choice is the hard-sided Pelican 1510 Case. It's waterproof, you could (theoretically) drive several tanks over it, and everything would be fine. This is what Jim uses for his carry-on. His “personal item” is a Tenba Messenger Bag – he can put another camera as well as a laptop in this bag. If you're more of a “pack mule” and prefer to bring everything along (including the kitchen sink) then you could go for a photography vest… but only if you love to look ridiculous.


  • Be aware of the lighting in different locations. While you may be used to shooting at a certain time of day in your home town (the 15 minutes right before sunrise, perhaps), the lighting may not cooperate with you in locations that you aren't familiar with. Prime shooting time is the 15 minutes before sunrise and sunset here in Boise. However, in Hawaii sunrise was not a great time to photograph the ocean because the water just looked really, really dark. Instead, a few hours into daylight gave the water a rich, blue color. Also, be aware that in locations with lots of mountains, the listed times for “sunrise” and “sunset” could very well be off by hours simply because the tall mountains block the sunlight.


  • When in doubt, time-lapse. Sometimes the colors just really don't work the way you want them to for a sunrise or sunset. Maybe there was a cloud blocking the sun, and it really isn't doing the scene any favors. In these cases, set the camera up to do a time-lapse (this is where the camera automatically takes a photo every few seconds). Then your effort to get to the location isn't wasted, even though you may not get any fantastic photos. And, as an added benefit, you get to enjoy the sunrise/sunset while the camera does the work.


  • Put an emergency SD card in your wallet! Especially when you're travelling, it can be really easy to forget your memory card. You get all the way to your location, only to find out that you have no way to keep your photos. But some planning ahead can save this for you – pull out your emergency card, pop it in the camera, and you're set to go. Jim forgot his memory card FOUR times on his Hawaii vacation, and each time the emergency card saved the shoot.


  • Aerial photography is awesome! We use the DJI Phantom (remote controlled helicopter) to get aerial shots with the GoPro camera. It's amazing some of the photo and video you can get – Jim was able to fly the Phantom out over the water and get some really amazing shots of surfers and waves, all with incredible perspectives.

[14:36] I'm planning to shoot some weddings, and I'm wondering if I should get a good quality zoom lens (like the 24-70mm f/2.8) or a good quality (but less expensive) prime lens (f/1.8).


Even though the prime lenses will be faster in the aperture, we recommend the zoom lens anyway. For a wedding, you're going to want some wide shots and some really nice, close pictures. Wedding photography really lends itself to zoom lenses much more than primes, simply because there are so many different shots that you're going to be taking and it will really be a hassle to be switching lenses all the time. At weddings, so many of your shots are candid, and if you have to take the time to switch out a lens you'll probably miss it half of them.

[17:11] I use Photoshop to put a watermark on all my prints, but depending on the print size, the logo changes size on the actual print. How do I make it stay the same size no matter what size the print is?

There are a couple ways to address this issue. In Photoshop, you can create a custom brush with your watermark. When you create the brush, make sure it's nice and big so that no matter what size you use, it will always be nice and sharp. Then all you need to do is use the brush on each photo and you can size the watermark to be whatever size you'd like it to be. Unfortunately, there isn't a way that we've found to make an action actually apply a brush. The action can create the layer for you and select the brush for you, but you have to actually apply the brush yourself. (If this interests you, we talk about custom brushes in our Photoshop 2 class.)

Another way to solve this problem is to save your watermark in a separate file as a transparent .png and then just place it on your image. This is something that Photoshop can do in an action.

Whatever you decide to do, be sure that your watermark is small and unobtrusive.

[21:00] What is a CTO gel? I'm not exactly sure what it is, or when and why to use it.

CTO gel stands for “Color Temperature Orange” – this is a yellowy-looking colored piece of cellophane that you put on the head of your flash to color the flash. The reason the CTO gel is more common than all the other colors you could get is because it makes your flash light match most incandescent lighting. This is handy for use when shooting indoors, because the flash light will match the lighting in the room. Then when you bring your photo in to Photoshop for post-processing, it is easy to just correct the white balance for the whole shot instead of having to worry about different lighting colors.

[22:16] Presets – I'm noticing a lot of photographers are using these. Do you think using presets is a good or bad thing, particularly in relation to your skills in the “digital dark room” in the long run?

Presets in Lightroom (known as actions in Photoshop) can be helpful in many situations. But be careful of using presets that you purchase from other photographers, because they won't necessarily be your style. Presets can give you some really great ideas, and it is often helpful to see how other photographers adjust sliders, but the best thing to do in relation to presets is to create your own custom presets. If you continue to use the presets of other photographers, you won't improve your own skills. We teach using and creating actions in our Photoshop 2 class.

[28:36] Doodads of the Week

Jim's doodad of the week is the Ewa housing. It worked really well on his trip to Hawaii for underwater shooting, and is so much less expensive than the $1500 housings you can buy (the Ewa housing runs around $400). It does make the camera controls a bit hard to use, but that is to be expected with this type of enclosure system.

Dustin's pick of the week is the CameraSim app. This app helps you understand more of what the settings on your camera actually do by giving you a photo to practice with and letting you adjust different settings. A lot of the stuff on their website is free to use, and the app for your mobile device is around $2.

[33:08] Prizes for reviews!

The winner is ricpix.  If that's your username on iTunes, email Jim at [email protected] to get your free online photography class.

To be entered to win the online photography class each week, simply go to this podcast on iTunes and write a one or two sentence review.  While they appreciate a a 5-star review, any review will get you entered to win a class for free (a $98 value).

3 thoughts on “6 Travel Photography Tips [IP34]”

  1. thanks for the reminders! My husband and I are on our way to Hawaii in a couple weeks and I need to remember about memory cards, light differences in a different location and not to worry if the shot doesn’t portray the beauty of the lookout. I am looking forward to fotographing a 300 foot waterfall for the first time. Any hints?

  2. Great podcast! A suggestion for options to the traditional photovest. SCOTTEVEST! SCOTTEVEST.com. An entire line of clothing with many pockets, but mostly hidden. Some pockets will take lenses without being visable. Definitely a classy alternative.

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