The travel hack you need to know
THEY have spent more than a decade on the road, hunting for adventure in off-the-beaten-path destinations.
Along the way, they’re paid by tourism boards and brands to take images in exotic locations. So it’s little wonder that Australian travellers Alesha Bradford and Jarryd Salem, the duo behind the popular travel blog Nomadasaurus, have a few tricks up their sleeve when it comes to getting the perfect snap.
Here, the professional travel bloggers, Instagrammers and photographers, reveal all.
1. HOW TO TAKE PHOTOS OF BUSY PLACES
It’s the ultimate hack. Just imagine this scenario: You’re in one of the most beautiful places you have ever seen, somewhere you’ve been wanting to visit your entire life, and all you want is to capture that perfect photo to remember your time there.
The problem is the place is crawling with dozens of other people, and they are all wanting the same thing.
Trying to get a picture of a busy place without any other people in it can be difficult, or downright impossible. Even if you’re the most patient person in the world, you could be waiting hours to take a picture that gives the illusion you have the place all to yourself.
We had often seen pictures of incredibly popular tourist places with no people, and wondered how the photographer managed to get the spot all to themselves. Our research came across a few different methods, and suddenly it started to make sense.
They weren’t there on their own, but rather were using a couple of amazing photography tricks to remove the people.
The first way can be quite complicated if you’re not familiar with how to use photo-editing tools. It involves taking a bunch of photos from the same spot (maybe 20 or more pictures about 30 seconds apart), “stacking” them in Photoshop, aligning the layers, making a smart object and applying a stack mode median.
Masking and statistics also works. There’s a lot of steps, and if you’re already confused, then the next method is the one for you.
Another way, that requires way less steps and technical knowledge, is to take a long exposure shot. A long exposure is when the shutter on your camera remains open for an extended period of time. This can be anywhere from a few seconds up to an hour, or more.
Slow shutter speeds are what gives you “motion blur” in photos, such as when somebody is running too fast for the camera to take a clean shot. When the shutter is really slow, like in long exposures, it can also have the cool effect of making people disappear.
We first noticed this during our own experiments of shots with slow shutter speeds as we developed our photography skills. If we took a long exposure of a scene with moving elements, such as a tree in the wind or someone swimming in a pool, the elements would
blur, sometimes to the point of vanishing completely.
When we started playing around with much longer exposures in busy places, 30 seconds or more, we managed to capture a few shots like we had seen the pros get: A popular place, without the masses of people, and we were hooked.
Let us give you an example of how this photography trick can work. The Church of the Good Shepherd in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand, is one of the most photographed spots in the entire South Island.
When we arrived, there were dozens of people walking around looking at the church, and we knew we wanted to get a photo with nobody by it. Unfortunately, there were so many people, we would have had to wait until nightfall to get one.
Instead we opted to do a long exposure shot. Because there was still a lot of natural light on the scene, and we didn’t want to overexpose the picture, we used a Neutral Density filter to balance out the slow shutter speed.
We set up our camera on a tripod, put on a Neutral Density filter, changed the shutter speed to “bulb”, used a remote to lock the shutter, and waited until the people that were in the picture were moving around instead of standing still.
At this point we opened the shutter and left it until everybody in the scene had moved around enough to literally blur themselves out.
And that’s how you can take photos of busy places without any people in it!
It’s not a trick that we use all the time, because you need to have quite a bit of gear with you, a spot that you can set up that’s out of the way, and of course time to execute the shot, but if we’re going somewhere we know we want to shoot without any people this is one of our tricks to doing it.
2. USING YOUR ZOOM TO MAKE THE BACKGROUND BIGGER
If your camera has any zoom on it, whether it’s optical zoom on a point-and-shoot or you have a telephoto lens, then there’s a great little trick you can learn about to help improve the composition in your photos.
Zooming in on a shot isn’t just about getting closer to the subject, like when you’re trying to take a picture of a lion on safari. It can also make the background appear much larger in your scene. This is thanks to an effect known as “lens compression”.
The more you zoom in on something, the closer the background appears to be. This helps to give a sense of just how large the landscapes are around you. For example in the two shots below we have one shot taken with a wide angle, and one taken with a zoom.
In the wide angle the subject at the front is large, but the mountains in the background seem tiny. In the second shot we used a zoom lens, which made the mountains appear as though they were right behind the kayakers and whales, when in reality they were more than 200m away.
Try it next time you’re taking a photo of your friend or loved one. Rather than take a photo from close up, move away from them and zoom in.
3. BLUR THE BACKGROUND TO FOCUS ON YOUR SUBJECT
This is another trick to change the background of your shot to give a desired effect.
If you’ve seen a lot of portrait photography, you may be wondering how the photographer gets that blurry, out of focus background to draw your eye towards subject. This is known as “bokeh”, and has to do with the aperture in your lens.
Aperture changes the depth of field of your shot, and the settings can be a bit confusing when you’re learning. A wide aperture is represented by a small number, while a narrow aperture is a high number. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.
Wide apertures give a shallow depth of field, so when you focus on something, whatever is far away from the subject will be blurry.
Change your aperture to the lowest number possible, something like f1.8 or f2.8 if it can go that wide, and then put whoever you’re taking a photo of at the front of your shot. When you focus on them everything in the background should have a nice, blurred, effect. Now you’re one step closer to taking better portrait shots.
Hot tip — some new smartphones also have a portrait effect built in.
4. GET CREATIVE WITH LIGHT AT NIGHT
Our last photography trick is learning how to paint with light, so that you can write your name, draw pictures or illuminate something in the dark.
For this one you’ll need three things: A camera with manual settings, a tripod to put the camera on and, of course, a light.
Wait until it’s completely dark outside, then put your camera on the tripod. Set the shutter speed to 30 seconds, and give it a 10 second time delay. When you’re ready push the shutter, grab your light (a phone, headlamp or torch will do), then run into position.
When the shutter opens up start waving the light around in front of you, spelling out your name or drawing something like a smiley face. The sensor will capture the light moving around, and it will show up on your photo. Light painting can also be used to show a subject in the dark, such as illuminating your car, a tent or some trees.
These are just some of the fun photography tricks you can use to help take your travel pictures to the next level. Now all you need to do is grab your camera and start practising.
SO WHAT GEAR DO YOU NEED?
Some of these photography tricks require you to have at the very least a decent camera, and in some situations a little bit more. While it is possible to take amazing holiday pictures on your smartphone, a lot of times it just can’t cut it.
Here is our detailed article about good travel cameras. You’ll need a camera that can shoot with manual settings. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a professional dSLR, but whatever you have make sure you can control the aperture, ISO and shutter speed on it. If you don’t know what these mean, here’s our article on travel photography tips that should answer your questions.
The next thing you’ll need is a tripod. This is because when you’re taking pictures with slow shutter speeds, any kind of hand movement will end up blurring your image. And trust us, no matter how steady you think you are, you cannot hold a camera perfectly still for one second.
Lastly is a Neutral Density filter. This is a piece of glass that basically acts like very dark sunglasses for your camera. They come in two styles, square and circular, and are mounted to the front of your lens.
The dark glass lets you open the shutter for longer, without having so much light enter the sensor that it completely blows out the scene — what is known as “overexposing”.