Award-winning, global travel photographer Susan Seubert has agreed to give us a few preparation photography tips for taking beautiful photos while traveling the world.
Susan is a National Geographic Photography Expert and in addition to shooting for National Geographic Traveler Magazine, she works for The New York Times, Time Magazine and Smithsonian Magazine among others.
Susan also exhibits her personal travel photography work with various galleries around the United States and abroad.
Though Susan is a US-based travel photographer, she is rarely home, recently shooting stories in Norway, Quebec, Mexico, Hawaii and Oregon. And, this week, Susan is embarking on a 4-week trip photographing Switzerland and Greece.
Here are Susan’s favorite travel photography tips for anyone who shares a love for travel and capturing beautiful photos while traveling.
1. Do your travel research ahead of time
For travel specific photography, I feel the most important thing is preparation via online travel research.
Just as you spend hours, online, searching for the best hotels and restaurants, you should know the best spots for picture taking. It’s great to wander, but knowing the best vantage points for shooting is very important.
In between trips, I’m constantly reading guidebooks, doing Google image searches, contacting locals for insider info – all of this is extremely important to make a good picture story. I’m always looking for hidden gems.
2. Dress for success
A typical day for me might include a sunrise shoot on the top of a mountain, hiking and horseback riding, followed immediately by shooting dinner at a world famous, four diamond restaurant. Throw in extreme temperatures, for good measure, and it’s a challenge to dress for the job.
Who wants to waste time going back to the hotel to change?
I cannot stress enough about the importance of having good travel clothes, whether you’re a man or woman! Patagonia, ExOfficio, Athleta, Prana, Mountain Hardwear and Columbia Sportswear are my go-to companies for good looking, functional clothes with sun protection.
Also, cargo skirts are the best for traveling. I have 3 skirts by Royal Robbins that are THE BEST for air travel.
Pockets keep all the necessary things, like passport, wallet, iPhone, boarding passes, currency, Kleenex, and Advil on you while keeping your hands free for cameras. I can go from the North Pole to Maui with no problem with this clothing setup.
3. Technical Tips for lenses
The question I get most often is, “What lens should I bring?”
I tend to be a bit of a heavy packer, but I never regret taking too much gear (with the exception of having to carry it all!).
I usually travel with two, full frame, camera bodies. One is fitted with a 24-105mm and a second with a 70-200mm. This allows me the ability to shoot just about anything at any time.
The 24-105 is the lens I use most; I tend to shoot at about 35mm for most subjects.
If you need to shoot a wide shot, 24mm is about as wide as anyone would want to be – more than that and the image begins to be distorted.
At 105mm, generally, you are still close enough to communicate with your subject or compress space a bit. I also like the Image Stabilization that these two lenses have. This feature allows me to shoot at slower shutter speeds and in lower light.
With these lenses, I can shoot the sand dunes of Baja, Mexico, a portrait of an internationally acclaimed chef or the interior of an Indian Saree Shop and everything in-between!
I encourage people to invest in glass. The life of a lens is going to far outlast the life of a camera these days, and the sharpness and contrast of good lenses can really make a difference in the quality of your images.
Read more: What lenses are in our camera bag?
4. Put down the long lens and introduce yourself
One of the most memorable people I photographed, on assignment for National Geographic Traveler magazine, was Richard Ho’opi’i.
For this “Undiscovered Maui” assignment, my editor asked me to photograph a small village in one of the more remote areas of Maui.
In Hawaii, it is often tricky to get away from the obvious tourist attractions, but the culture is even more difficult to understand because of it’s long and complicated history.
If you have enough time to get to know a community, then the doors will open to some of the most gracious people on the planet. My assistant and I had been going to this small village for many days, taking baby steps to try and gain the trust of the people.
We were interested in photographing the interior of a small church, so we were pointed in the direction of the deacon, who turned out to be Mr. Ho’opi’i. We met him when he was caring for his pigs, and spent quite a bit of time talking to him and it slowly dawned on me who he was – a living slack key guitar legend!
He took us to the church and brought his ukulele with him. We got a private concert and some amazing photos and a lasting relationship with one of Hawaii’s living treasures. It was because we had spent so much time talking with people in the community, that I ended up having all manner of access to people and their cultural practices.
5. Always engage with your subject
It’s important to not photograph someone far away with a long lens without first getting to know them a little bit first.
Don’t be afraid to walk up and ask people to take their picture. Smile and be friendly, but also take their needs into consideration. Always be sensitive to cultural issues and try to spend some time with your subject.
Most people I approach on the street or beach, or wherever, are happy and flattered to have their image made. Don’t forget to give them information about yourself and offer to send them a copy for their personal use!
- How to improve your travel photography Part 1 and Part 2
- Why I’ll never be a great travel photographer (for now) + tips
How do you prepare to ensure you take great photographs while traveling?