Featured Image of the Week – 9/15/2014

“a Star Spangled Banner”

For this weeks Featured Image of the Week I went back to find a shot from my 2013 visit to Baltimore, Maryland. While I was in Baltimore I took in a baseball game, toured the famous Inner Harbor area and I also made a stop at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. It was this fort that gave birth to the American National Anthem 200 years ago (yesterday) during the War of 1812 and it was a really awesome place to see.

For this Featured Image I’ll share a few tips about travel photography and include a few more images from my adventure to see where the Star Spangled Banner was born.

Travel Photography

If there’s one thing I love it’s traveling to historic places to see the sights and learn the small details that you can’t get from reading books or watching documentaries. The entire experience of standing on the battlefield at Gettysburg, for example, can’t be recreated in any way I know of. For the first forty years of my life I lived in Michigan and I did very little traveling. Now that I’ve moved close to Washington, DC I do my best to get out and see and experience as much as I can.

I’m fortunate to live in a place where there is a ton of history, historic sites, monuments and national memorials. In Washington, DC you’re never far from a complete history lesson. While I don’t need to travel far to see something special, there are plenty of things I do locally that apply when I’m on the road.

Travel Photography Gear

The single most important thing for me with travel photography is traveling light. A lot of the scenic locations you’ll be visiting are going to involve some walking (sometimes LOTS of walking). I do my best to only bring what I’ll need and I make gear choices as if I’ll spend an entire day on my feet (with a gear bag on my shoulder or back). If you start to experience aches and pains you’ll quickly lose interest in your photo adventure so make sure you’re not bringing something along that has zero chance of being used.

My typical travel pack involves a single camera, a few lenses, a travel tripod, a small ND filter kit, some lens wipes, memory cards, some rain protection and a few odds and ends. If I know I’m going someplace special that requires more I’ll go ahead and pack what I’ll be needing (like hot-shoe flashes, for example). Traveling light makes it easy to keep going for a full day and it’s also much easier to keep track of your stuff.

I’ve found that a single super zoom lens (18-200mm, for example) workss great for travel photography. You might give up some clarity compared to a standard zoom lens but it’s a trade-off I’m willing to make. Modern super-zoom lenses have really gotten good and with post processing you can make up for many of the shortcomings typical of an 18-200mm lens. If I’m traveling somewhere special I’ll pack special lenses.

I love to bring along a few fast prime lenses (like a 20mm and a 50mm) because they’re so small and light. Having those lenses means I can get a higher quality shot outdoors and I can also shoot indoors (in lower light) at much lower ISO settings.

Tripods are important for getting super sharp shots (especially in the evening) and when I’m traveling I pack a super small tripod as well as a tabletop tripod. A big 10 pound tripod may be considerably sturdier but you’ll definitely get fatigued faster. Currently I use a 3Pod carbon fibre travel tripod but I have plenty of friends using the MeFoto Backpacker for photowalks.

Finally, I keep a few extras in my gear bag like lens wipes, extra batteries, a rain poncho and granola bars to snack on. The name of the game for me is having as little as possible but making sure I still have everything I think I’ll need.

Note: If it’s a super special trip I’m making just for the photographic opportunity then traveling light goes right out the window. My heaviest tripod, lenses, camera bodies and more are coming along (unlike a weekend trip to Baltimore when it’s also a mini-vacation).

Travel Photography Tips

Since this is a Featured Image of the Week I don’t want this to turn in to a long article about travel photography but I will share a couple of tips I’ve learned over the years.

1) Do your research!

I can’t believe how much information is out there these days. With the internet you can find out where to go, the best routes to take and even see images other people have captured. If you know you’re going to Baltimore, for example, it’s a good idea to see what touristy locations are nearby and what makes them so special. With good planning you can make sure you get the shots you want and still have plenty of time to enjoy your trip.

2) Photograph the details.

Travel photography is meant to be shared. That means writing a blog post, sharing stories on social media or playing a slideshow when you have guests over. When I’m traveling I shoot all sorts of things that may not make sense on their own but work great when part of a collection of images. When I visit a historic location, for example, I always get a shot of the entrance sign:


On it’s own it may not be a very exciting shot but as the cover to a photo book or the first slide in a slideshow (or a presentation) it’s a great shot to have.

3) Keep an eye out for informational signs.

Because you’ll be sharing your story it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for anything that can help you remember the details when you get home. I try to get a picture of every informational placard or sign I come across. These shots won’t be shared but the information is super handy when it comes time to give a presentation, write an article or share a post about your adventure on social media. Here’s an example of one of the signs at Fort McHenry:


A shot like this won’t win me any awards but it’s great to have your facts right and that’s why I always shoot pictures of the signs and placards.

4) Don’t be afraid to put your camera down from time to time

It’s easy to arrive someplace new and want to photograph everything. I’ve experienced that feeling and it’s completely normal. But if you ask me experiencing a moment is way more important than getting a shot. When something special happens it feels different through the viewfinder of a camera. There’s a very detached feeling you have when your eye is pressed up to your camera and if you want to really know what it’s like to experience a moment it’s ok to put your camera down and watch as things unfold before you (like a sunrise). I know how difficult that sounds but believe me when I say how important it really is.

If you still feel like you need to get the shot then consider some options that can let you do both. My solution in those situations is to set my camera up on a tripod and trigger it with a cable release (or directly if your camera doesn’t have remote triggering capability). With my camera on a tripod I’m free to experience the moment with my eyes while still getting a few shots of a once in a lifetime moment. ┬áHere’s a shot of a flag raising at Fort McHenry:

To get some shots my camera was on a tripod next to me during the the flag raising. This let me watch everything happen with both my eyes (and all of my attention) and it was awesome! Believe me when I say it’s important not to miss a once in a lifetime experience because your face is hiding behind a camera. I remote mounted my camera and watched a NASA rocket launch with my eyes and I can say that I’m happy I got to experience it with my eyes (and not through my camera viewfinder).

That’s all for now. Be sure to check back next week for another Featured Image of the Week!

You can check out this shot on my 500px page here.

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