Photography on the fly

monks in Laos photo by Steve DaveyAsk a photographer what they never have enough of, and they are sure to say “time”! We put world-renowned photographer Steve Davey on the spot and asked how to get the most out of your photos in minimum time…

“Time is short. We all get precious little time off and need to make the most of every minute of it. For many people the short city break is the perfect way to do this. A chance to spend a few days in a new city to explore, eat and of course party! But how do you square getting the best pictures of your city break with trying to get the most enjoyment and relaxation out of your trip?

The key is to work out just what you are interested in. Don’t try to photograph everything in a limited time. Apart from completely knackering yourself, you will come away with a whole lot of lacklustre pictures. Be discerning and photograph only what really grabs you. If you are into nightlife, then photograph that. If you are into food, then try to take a series of pictures showing the characteristic food of your destination. You will be far more motivated and your pictures will be far better.

Less can be more
Don’t try to photograph too much: unless photography is your sole reason for travelling, be sure to leave some time for pictures and other times for relaxing. The best way to achieve this is with planning. Work out in advance what you want to photograph, and when will be the best time for this. Sure, this might lack spontaneity, but you will get more out of your trip if you do – especially if you are travelling with non-photographers.

Unfamiliar shots of familiar places
If you do want to photograph the main sights of a city, then try to put your own stamp on them. Don’t take the same shot as everyone else, photograph how you see a particular monument and what it means to you.

Walk round your subject and vary the angle in order to show something in a different way. Experiment with taking a small part of a familiar building or show how it fits into the surrounding area. Try shooting into the light, to get a different effect or look at how people – both travellers and locals – interact with a building. Including the human element in your shot will help the person looking at the picture to relate to it and the experiences on show.

Experiment with your photographic skills. Exploiting depth of field, angle and lens choice can give your pictures a photographic quality that will help them to standout in a sea of thoughtless Instagram snapshots.

High viewpoints are perfect for an overview of a city. As well as giving less familiar angle, they will allow you to exploit the early morning or evening light where the light comes in at a lower angle, but is warmer and more evocative. Look out for hills and towers – especially those with some sort of outdoor viewing platform. Don’t just head for the well known spots: use your imagination and try to find less well known viewpoints. Not only will your pictures be different, but you will be able to show the more obvious viewpionts in your picture.

Shallow depth of field given by a relatively wide aperture is a perfect way of drawing someones attention to a significant part of the picture. It lets the person looking at the picture know exactly what you consider important and what they should be looking at in the picture. It is a bit like nudging someone in the ribs and pointing something out to them.

Meet the people
A city without people is quite simply a ruin! People are the most exciting and varied part of any destination and you should head to places where you can meet and interact with the locals. Think of markets, religious places and squares where people gather, or go to relax.

Don’t snap people from afar with a long lens: approach them and interact. You will have a much better experience, come away with better photographs and maybe even some suggestions for places to go and things to see. Experiment with shooting environmental portraits where you place the subject in their environment. This can say more about them and who they are, what they do and where they live.

Have fun!
Above all, you should try to enjoy yourself. With any photography your pictures will be more successful if you are engaged with the subject and having a good time. You will also not just be rewarded with great pictures, but a much better travel experience!”

Steve Davey is the author of Footprint Travel Photography – the leading guide to photographing on your travels. Steve has launched a series of exclusive travel photography tours, with land arrangements provided by Intrepid Travel. These visit some of the most exotic and photogenic parts of the world. More information on

Photo: © Steve Davey

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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