What is this article about?
While travelling around the world you’ll have to deal with various types of outdoor photography that you haven’t dealt with before, like shooting waterfalls or small birds. Here are a few tips that helped me the most.
Check out my other related articles here.
Who is this article for?
This article is not for experts but neither it is for beginners (if you don’t know what exposure, ISO or aperture means, I guess this is not the right article for you). I mainly target enthusiast photographers who wish to hone their skills while travelling for a long time. In other words, those who are willing to invest a lot of time and (unfortunately) money to bring fantastic memories from this once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Use a tripod on a sunny day. In Patagonia, I didn’t experience any problems shooting forests handheld. Since there wasn’t much sun (or sometimes no sun at all), everything was fine with a wide aperture. However, in New Zealand, I simply couldn’t get anything right. I realized that with a lot of sun, there’s no other way but to shoot with a really small aperture on a tripod. If you don’t have a tripod, you can still capture nice and interesting details.
Use a medium aperture when doing some “macros” to avoid blurring your subject. With my 35mm, I now open at f4 or f5 when I can. (I used to open too wide as you can see in some of these shots.) Since you’re very close to the subject, you’ll still get a nice blurry background anyway. But don’t go too small either if you don’t have a tripod not to get a blurred or noisy image.
Frame some backlighting in between the foliage to obtain a nice bokeh in your background.
Go for long exposures. It’s usually much better when the waterfall is in the shade and when you don’t get direct sun light. Otherwise, you’ll need to use neutral density filters. I usually managed to get around without a tripod using the tilted LCD on my D750. I obtained good results with an exposure around 1 to 2 seconds.
A 70-200mm is usually enough. I took most of my wildlife shots in the Galápagos Islands or in the Atacama desert. In both places, apart from small birds, you’ll be fine with a 200mm focal length. You can always crop your image a bit. It’s better to sacrifice some pixels to keep an f2.8 speed, especially when the animal is moving or the light is dimming. I used a 2x teleconverter to shoot flamingos in Galapagos but this is not the best place for flamingos anyways. In Atacama, I could shoot flamingos at 200mm 50% of the time. If you’re not super patient and don’t plan to spend a few weeks there, I think a 200-500mm could be pretty helpful.
Shoot at multiple apertures and pick the one you like the most later. If the animal is pretty far away and fills up only 10% of the frame, you don’t necessarily want to shoot wide open, especially if you have a nice background.
Shooting bird is hard. Birds are probably the hardest pictures to get right (except in the Galapagos where they’re not afraid of humans). The more I practice the more it seems unachievable.
Be patience and practice setting your exposure on the spot (birds won’t wait for you).
Think out of the box. It’s often very hard to properly expose a bird sitting on a branch high up. Try something more creative with backlighting.
Set a minimum shutter speed of usually a bit more than the focal length if the bird stays still and above 1/1000 if it moves a lot. Don’t necessarily go with an ideal speed of say 1/2000 if you don’t have a lot of light. Otherwise you’ll end up with a noisy picture that you’ll throw away anyways.
Pick your lens depending on the light. If you want to use a 200-500mm f5.6 to shoot birds flying or in the water, don’t wait until the sun is too low or you won’t get enough speed. (I assume that you’ll want to use a polarizing filter if there’s water, hence the few f-stops that you’ll loose.) You’ll need some really high-end and heavy equipment if you want to shoot birds in a dark forest. Don’t even think about using a 200-500mm f5.6. Even my 70-200mm f2.8 is often too slow.
Anticipate the direction of the bird to set your focus point where its head will be positioned in your frame: if it’s going right to left, move the point to the left, etc.
I shoot landscape with my 35mm or my 70-200mm. I usually don’t use a tripod except at sunset or sunrise, so I can’t go with apertures below f9 or f10, which I find good enough. It’s sometimes problematic if you’re shooting at 200mm a landscape that’s spreading through different focal planes: the grass in front of you might get blurry while the background is crisp. In that case, you’ll need to shoot at f22 on a tripod.
Leverage compression when you can. Compression is an interesting phenomenom useful for shooting landscapes or make the sun bigger for instance. Imagine you’re shooting a sunset with a boat as your foreground using a 35mm. The boat is taking 40% of the frame and the sun 5% (I’m making up numbers for simplicity purposes). Now, use a 200mm focal length, move away from the boat and try to take the same shot with the boat taking 40% of the frame. The sun will now appear as 10% of the frame! That’s something you can use all the time if you want pieces of the background to be larger relative to your foreground.
Panoramas. Since I pretty much always have a polarising filter, I used to have a few issues with panoramas. Not sure if Lightroom has made some progress or if I’m doing something different now, but it’s not that big of an issue anymore. Lightroom is also smart enough to deal with panoramas with water (where the water is moving between your shots).
Get a single shot of the landscape as a backup. In rare occasions, Lightroom couldn’t stitch the pictures properly. If what’s interesting in the picture is split between 2 shots then there’s not much you can do.
Bring a GoPro or a camera that can shoot high quality videos. We only brought an old waterproof camera. Unfortunately, we realized too late that we should have brought a GoPro or something equivalent before leaving Europe. Camera equipment is crazy expensive in South America, hard to find, and usually behind by one model. We were absolutely amazed by the quality of the videos taken by our guide in the Galapagos.
Get a stick to be able to take underwater shots from an inflatable boat.
Buy a model with an LCD viewer. Otherwise it’ll be very hard to properly frame your shots (believe me, I tried as the LCD of our old waterproof camera was faulty).