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Tips for Better travel photos : Setting goalsX-rays and airport scanners
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Goal Setting

Rather than launching straight into a technical discussion of which cameras, lenses, tripods and films to take, let's first consider a more simple question. Why are you doing this?

One of Australia's most commercially successful photographers, Steve Parish, turned over more than $150 million in sales over a ten year period. He claims that one of the secrets to his success is his approach to photography. Steve pre-visualises the final product on a bookstand or in a presentation case in a shop. he then works backwards and asks himself, "What do I need to bring this concept to fruition?". He checks whether his resources (eg slide library) contain the necessary material. He then goes out and photographs anything that he doesn't already have or can't more economically acquire. In his own words, " There is no room for egos in publishing. You have to cater to the needs of the market".

We can benefit from this approach. As amateur travel photographers, we cannot afford repeat our travels, make mistakes or forget anything. It pays to get it right the first time. By first identifying our goals we can then ask ourselves, "What do we need to achieve these goals?" Selection of equipment, degree of preparation and film types will become self-evident at the end of this process.

In the picture of Barn Bluff, Cradle Mountain National Park, I identified a picture of this mountain as one of my goals. I wanted my picture to include, good light, water reflections and dried wood. After checking maps and sunrise/sunset tables I knew that the mountain had to be photographed at sunrise because the water was to the east of the mountain. On the previous day we stopped at a hut 2hrs walk from the lake. I awoke at 3am and walked in the dark for 2 hrs to take the shot at sunrise. The cloud cap was an extra bonus for my hard work.

Quickly answer the "Setting Goals" questionnaire. Answer quickly and instinctively. Answer each question as indicated with a ranking from 1 to 5. Note that the numbers mean different things in each section of the questionnaire.


Questionnaire - Setting your goals

1. Your photographic ambitions

I want to use my photographs to -


Priority ranking
 Look through them occasionally and reminisce   1 2 3 4 5
 Quickly place them in photo albums that take little time and effort   1 2 3 4 5
 Design a more eye catching album that my family, friends & I will enjoy viewing.   1 2 3 4 5
 Make high quality enlargements for the wall at home   1 2 3 4 5
 Exhibit my photographs in a gallery   1 2 3 4 5
 Present audio visual slide shows to friends and to public gatherings   1 2 3 4 5
 Make photojournalistic documentaries that I can sell to magazines   1 2 3 4 5
 Place my photographs with an image or stock library   1 2 3 4 5
 Write feature articles or books on my destinations   1 2 3 4 5

 2. Your camera equipment

Which of the following best describes your camera equipment

 One point and shoot camera with no overrides on the automatic control

 An advanced point and shoot that allows me a bit of creative control

 A basic SLR with one or two lenses

 Advanced SLR system with multiple cameras and lenses

 Several camera systems in more than one format


 3. Your travel habits

Do you want to -

 Travel light?  NO ../ ..DUNNO ../ ..YES
 Compromise own interests with those of a fellow traveller/tour group?  NO ../ ..DUNNO ../ ..YES
 Are you willing to really rough it if the destination is interesting?  NO ../ ..DUNNO ../ ..YES

4. Other

You can't just take photographs. What else do you want to do on your travels? The best photo opportunities arise when you engage with the local people in some other more social activity.













Analysing your responses

Examine your responses. Have you given a high priority to something that you've never done before like exhibitions, slide shows or stories? Hopefully, you should begin to focus on some goals to set yourself for your next trip. Something that stretches you a bit. Some examples of these may be -


Write down the most important goal that you are going to work towards before your next trip.

A goal to strive for on my next trip is to :



The questionnaire is structured in four sections. The photographic ambitions section will in many ways determine the equipment you bring. If your responses are more positive in the top section , in other words you just want to make a basic well-designed album for yourself, but don't want to make any bigger enlargements.

Your approach might be -


If your responses are more positive in the bottom section ie you want to make enlargements for home, exhibitions, publishing or selling, you might need to :-

Take an advanced compact camera or better still an SLR system;

If you answered yes to "write feature articles or books on my destinations"

You might need to :

You should also know where they like to put the headings and familiarise yourself with their submission and content guidelines so that you can deliver what they want to publish.

Irrespective of the goals you set yourself, have some idea of what you need to take and how to take it before departure. With proper preparation and a clear idea of your goals you can take the minimum of equipment you need to achieve them, no more and no less. Weighing yourself down with unnecessary weight restricts your mobility. Bringing a fully automated point & shoot camera might restrict creativity. Find the balance that is right for you. Test the equipment you are planning to carry. Pack it up in you camera bag and walk 10 km around your suburb or town stopping every 10 mins to take a photo. Try to shoot a whole roll of 36 exposures over 4 hrs. Not only will you see if you are too weighed down with equipment but you can note which equipment you used and which stayed in the bag. Then, imagine doing it every day for a month. If it stayed in the bag all day perhaps it should stay home?

It should come as no surprise that this may require a lot of research, preparation and testing before you leave. Identifying your goals and being properly prepared means that you consider the target viewer in your image composition. If you are the sole viewer, the images do not need to be self-contained. You can be self indulgent in your image taking. They only need to trigger personal memories to set the image in context. You know the context.

Images intended for public viewing must be more carefully crafted to communicate without additional information. Images intended for a public forum must find the right balance between technical excellence, personal and emotional content, composition and context. The image must communicate the photographer's message and emotion to the viewer without the viewer requiring any first hand experience of the subject matter to interpret the message. One of the most difficult skills to learn is objective assessment of your own images.

At the time the photo is exposed, I usually have a pretty good idea whether it will be any good for enlargement and even some idea of how big the enlargement will be. I close my eyes and visualise the final print held in my hands. Learn the skills. As you press the shutter, if a little voice in your head shouts "YES," you know you've got a keeper.