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Top travel photography tips

Regular contributor Slawek Kozdras — who shot our October 2016 New York cover story — talks us through his tips for taking photographs on your travels as part of our photography series with CEWE Photoworld

Top travel photography tips
Mahattan skyline from the Staten Island Ferry. Image: Slawek Kozdras

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Do your research. Before each assignment, I research the location and prepare a list of places to see. As the legendary American photographer Ansel Adams said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” I like it because it means just that — it highlights the fact that each shot requires preparation and planning.

Use the light to your advantage. After planning where I want to go, I split my itinerary into parts of the day. I generally reserve the highlights for early mornings and late afternoons when the light is at its best, while interiors are usually reserved for the middle of the day. Anything in between is for getting lost in a particular area and chance discoveries. For example, on a shoot I did for National Geographic Traveller in New York City, I took the ferry to Staten Island at 5am to capture Manhattan’s iconic skyline from the boat at sunrise. Upon arriving at Staten Island, I explored the elegant architecture of Snug Harbour Cultural Center & Botanical Garden in the early morning light.

Talk to people. People are some of the most powerful tools to tell a story. On Staten Island, for example, I’d planned to simply wander around for a few hours, but I walked into a bar which, by chance, turned out to be one of New York’s oldest. There, I met and photographed the owner, Larry.

Slawek’s favourite shot from the New York shoot — the mysterious girl on Brooklyn Bridge. Image: Slawek Kozdras

Use your intuition. As I crossed Brooklyn Bridge, I took one of my favourite pictures: a portrait of a girl posing for another photographer. I took it intuitively, without even stopping or looking through the viewfinder. Finally, I wanted to finish the day at Brooklyn Heights Promenade to photograph the ferries after sunset, with the Statue of Liberty in the background. However, I noticed the basketball courts down by the river and spent the rest of the evening capturing the silhouettes of players with my telephoto lens — I knew I had a subject just waiting for me in the fading sunlight.

I always travel well equipped. When it comes to a city assignment, for example, I do cityscape shots with my default 28-70mm lens, and some portraits for which I always carry a 50mm prime, and some unexpected shots where the 300mm telephoto lens comes in handy. Add some spare batteries and memory cards, and that’s all I need on any given day — that and a comfortable backpack to carry it all in, and shoes for walking from dawn until late at night.

Expect the unexpected. As is usually the case, I like the spontaneous, unplanned shots the most. But paradoxically, I wouldn’t have taken them without planning to be at the right place at the right time and with the right gear.

Basketball courts in Brooklyn. Image: Slawek Kozdras

Keep a visual record. When I come back from an assignment, I have to sift through thousands of images to select the best ones before submitting to editors. It’s a time-consuming task, but I enjoy watching the very best images emerge after all this work. But the real culmination of an assignment is always looking back at the printed photos. It’s a great feeling to turn page after page, see them on paper, and travel back in time to the locations and the good memories. These days, we are flooded with digital images 24/7 and rarely get to enjoy them in print — in my view, this makes seeing photos on paper that much more special.   

Slawek Kozdras is an award-winning freelance travel photographer whose inspiring imagery and photographic storytelling have made him a regular contributor to National Geographic Traveller (UK), among a wealth of other titles.   

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