Summer is here and, for many of us, summer travel photography is a vital and important part of our craft. Not considering the solo traveller or the professional on assignment, travel photography can be challenging in a number of ways and this four part series intended to help you think about strategies for how to approach your summer travel photography as well as providing some practical tools and methods you can immediately start using.
In Part II of this series I’ll how to get ready before a trip. I’ll discuss everything from how many memory cards you will need to what equipment to bring/not bring with my recommendations. Part III will cover strategies and methods for while you are travelling, especially with family. And Part IV will cover how to manage your workflow once you get home, with a special focus on collecting photos from more than one camera!
The Elephant in the Room
Before we can get into the nitty gritty of summer travel photography, we need to talk about the elephant in the room: the camera everyone already has in their pocket – the smart phone!
The smart phone is doing more to shape the photo industry today than anything else since the inception of the first digital camera back in 1975. Some industry reports suggest that the mobile phone will kill the market for digital cameras all together. While this might be and overblown statement, some industry reports show sales have plummeted by as much as 84% since 2010!
While the newer class of mirrorless cameras and the more robust DSLRs might be somewhat safe from this overall trend, the market for midsize and compact cameras has been massively affected. I personally don’t carry a mid size digital any more (the Olympus STYLUS 1 was my personal go to) and I can’t think of one client who I currently work who does either!
The Traveler’s Dilemma
Why should I bring my big camera when my smart phone is just as good and easier to use? In the past few months we’ve been hearing this refrain from our clients more and more.
In the next section I’ll cover some of the pros and cons of using a mobile phone for travel photography. However, it’s important to point out here that a camera is just a tool. And it is up to you, the photographer, how to use that tool to capture your vision and express your point of view. Which hammer is best for this nail?
Some tools are better at some things than others. Part of the craft of being a photographer is choosing the right tool for your purpose. A studio portrait photographer has different needs than a sports photographer. They both use cameras but each have their own set of criteria.
For some travellers a smart phone is more than enough camera. However, anyone who is mildly serious about their craft should consider using more substantive camera (either mirrorless or a DSLR). Personally, I use both a smart phone AND the newer Nikon Z6. I’ll discuss when and where to use either or both, after reviewing some smart phone pros and cons.
Smart Phone: Pros & Cons
As with any tool we want to understand the relative strengths and weaknesses so we can know when and how to better use it. Smart phone cameras do some things very well and manufacturers are building in more features all the time. One significant advantage of smart phones is a built in processor. This will become a significant feature in coming years as manufacturers add features, such as adding multiple lenses.
First, the strengths. A smart phone is lightweight and convenient, and it is unobtrusive and ubiquitous, so perfect for street photography. Of course, it has an easy-to-use interface that you are already using for other purposes. The current models do an excellent job in a wide variety of lighting conditions, and can handle light and shadow (including HDR). The date, time and location are embedded, making documenting your trip all the easier.
Second, the weaknesses. A smart phone has a small sensor, which means there will be a limit to how much you can enlarge the photo. Most smart phones only take JPGs (or HEICs) and not Raw images, which means less creative control when editing photos later. They also lack sophisticated manual controls, putting limits on advanced techniques like creating bokeh or panning/blurring. Camera lenses on smart phones rely on digital zoom and can also never compare to that of a real lens. Finally, special effects like HDR and Pano are pretty good on mobile phones but with significant limitations.
Summer Travel Photography Strategy: Snapshots vs. Photos
So having a very good camera that fits in your pocket really challenges the notion of carrying a full size DSLR or mirrorless camera. In turn, this can lead to some confusion about when and where to use which camera. Remember, your job as the photographer is to choose the right tool for the right job. So, consider the how and then when you are taking photos.
Mobile phones are great cameras for snapshots and for street photography. DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are great for doing “photography,” when want greater creative control.
When you are out with friends and family, or happen to stop by a market that enthralls you, your mobile phone will be perfectly fine. It is great for snapshots and unobtrusive when out on the street, and taking full advantage of its features will bring quality shots.
If there is a moment when you want to get away from the group and spend an hour or two on your own creating beautiful images, then certainly take your leave from your family and friends and spend that time honing your craft. Or, when planning your day, look at what events and activities might be best for using your full-frame digital camera and take it along. We’ll take a deeper look at traveling with family in Part III.
The key here is to think about what you want and then plan and communicate accordingly. When in doubt, keep your big camera with you and don’t feel conflicted if you end up not using it.
In sum, there is nothing wrong with relying on your mobile phone while travelling. A camera is simply a tool, and as a tool, it is YOU who needs to choose how YOU will use it. And don’t create stress on your vacation seconding guessing yourself, after the fact.
In the next three summer travel photography posts in this series we will take a look at planning your trip, looking at more strategies and tricks you can use while traveling and finally to bring it all together in the end.