Some of your best travel pictures will be off the cuff, spontaneous affairs, but taking a few basic pieces of kit – like a tripod, zoom lens, polariser and GorillaPod grip – can ensure you’re ready to make the most of a golden opportunity. Here’s a round-up of the best photography kit to sling in your day pack.
1. Compact cameras
Don’t listen to the old school purists – these days getting the shot is more important than the pedigree of camera you use, be it an iPhone or handy compact. Some photo opps require a quick draw, and SLRs (though professional) can be clunky and awkward to locate in an instant. By the time you’ve screwed on the right lens, your chosen subject has moved on.
This shot was taken in the Greek Islands with a Panasonic Lumix compact camera. With Zakynthos receding in the distance, there was a perfect blue sky garlanded with a low belt of clouds, and a rich navy sea contrasting with the crow-black garb of an orthodox priest and nun. To achieve this picture I quickly reeled off three or four shots with an ISO setting of 200 to compensate for the brilliance of the rising sun, using a shutter speed of about 1/400th of a second. Once I returned to the UK I cropped the shot slightly on my Mac to personalise the two central figures.
For close-ups that require steadiness beyond the capability of a human hand a tripod is your best friend. This shot of freshly caught octopus on Nisyros captures the essence of the Greek Islands: fishing and the sea. The close-up catches the alien succulence of the tentacles by using the bracketing function on my Nikon D3100, which takes several shots of the same subject using different camera settings. I’ve concentrated the focus on just the right side of the frame to make it more interesting. The tentacles weren’t going anywhere so I had plenty of time to frame the shot with a fine focus and used the timer function so the camera wouldn’t shake when I pressed the button. Portable and lightweight, for long exposures at night or in low light conditions or finely detailed shots like this, a tripod is essential.
3. Watch the magic
Don’t underestimate the power of the humble wristwatch – it enables you to time your activity to coincide with the day’s optimum lighting. Pictures taken just after dawn, before the sun starts to dominate the sky and over-expose everything in its glare, capture subjects in a softer light, coating buildings in amber hues and deepening an image with contrasting shadows. Nature provides the photographer with a second opportunity to catch something they didn’t manage to get out of bed for in the form of a 'magic hour' before dusk. Light at this time of the day is often honey-tinted, lengthening shadows and adding texture. Sea glare from overhead sunlight, as in this shot of Lake Malawi, is also not a problem as the light of the sun in early morning and the magic hour is horizontally angled. So set your alarm or be prepared to wait for the late afternoon sun to achieve shots you’ll be proud of in years to come.
4. Zoom lens & SLR polariser
Photographers tell you to beware working with two things: kids and animals. Both are prone to moving impulsively and have better things to do than play to your lens. This shot – taken on a beach close to where Richard Burton filmed Night of The Iguana - includes both. The iguana was being allowed a dip by its owner, while the little girl, my splash of background colour, was busy with her bucket. I waited for the two to converge and, in order not to spook the iguana, used a zoom lens fixed low to the ground on a tripod. This allowed me to go right up close to catch its beautiful scales. If your zoom has an image stabilisation or vibration reduction switch, make sure it’s on, and for animal shots with a zoom always employ a tripod.
My other essential piece of kit in this shot is a polariser. Costing around US$45, this essential bit of kit screws on to your SLR lens and does a great job of nullifying sun glare on objects, reflections and water, and deepening colours, particularly blues. The brilliance of the Mexican sky here is thanks to the polariser, plus its colour-saturating effect on the vivid orange of the girl’s bucket. It was shot around midday and the polariser allowed me to enhance the blue of the sky and deepen the contrast with the colour of the lizard, as well as add sharpness to its scales.
5. Multi-shot mode and GorillaPod grip
Any compact or SLR camera worth its salt will have a ‘sports’ mode or multi-shot feature. The former allows you to shoot with a fast film speed to capture quick moving subjects that would otherwise be blurred, while the latter lets you take a few pictures per second, thus maximising your chances of getting a decent one. The shot below was taken in the ancient city of Luang Prabang in Laos. The temple and the boy playing with a rattan football was taken using a GorillaPod (www.joby.com/gorillapod ; about US$20) attached to a low-lying frangipani branch. The light was fading so I whacked up the film speed on my compact, and used multi-shot mode to get a sense of the ball in motion.