Photographer Tips: Short Travel Breaks

October 7, 2012 — 1 Comment

Before this post gets underway, you will notice the images are in pairs. In a slight change of direction, I’ve added resized versions of the original captures. Just resized, that’s all. It’ll give you an impression of the level and direction of change my images go through on their journey to the screen and print. If you have any questions or feedback, please ask/say; always welcome 🙂

Ponte Vecchio, Florence

Please do click on this one above – it’s 1600px wide and well worth a larger look.

The long weekend away is a great tradition and, for us in the UK at least, Europe is a perfectly reasonable short hop for the 3 or 4 day break. With some planning, costs can also be pretty reasonable too.

For the photographer this is excellent value and not just for the costs. Frequent trips, reduced costs means more locations and images per year; it’s just too good to pass up!

You absolutely need to plan though. I’ve just returned from Florence. The trip profile went like this. Gatwick to Pisa on the Saturday morning. Train into Florence by the mid afternoon. 3 dawns and 4 sun sets before returning, via the same train, to Pisa for the late evening flight back to London.

Ponte Vecchio, Florence

I have not previously visited Florence so I started by looking at the popular image sites, searching for the destination and ordering by ‘most interesting’ or ‘popular’.

I definitely shoot my own style, but this lazy technique will let you know what’s around to photograph. You will most likely be able to deduce the direction of the Sun for each scene for dawn and dusk. My other half lives by her local guides from Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, etc.

The net result is a plan of what to shoot and the practical knowledge of how to navigate on the ground!

Along Florence's Amo River

When I visit an attraction, I survey the scene and will probably walk around it. Where is the light play? What does the sky look like? What are the tourists taking images of? I often think, as subject matter, they are just as interesting as the main attraction.

There should be a harmony between the positive and negative space in your images. This sounds zen and more than a little whimsical, but the impact of your main subject will be weakened by a poor background.

If it’s not possible to get a clean composition – one of the positives of shooting at and just after the dawn – look for details. Also, and I cannot stress this enough, get lost! Just go walk about and you will see so much more local image fodder than just steering by the guide book ‘most popular’.

Along Florence's Amo River

Stepping back to a previous point; skies! Oh the pain of it all! I shoot with a 17mm tilt shift lens. The front element is bulbous and solutions invariably involve expensive filters and DIY attachment solutions. Personally I dislike filters. They encourage laziness and a 5 stop unnatural exposure difference in all the structures penetrating the sky is not impressive. Photoshop is not for everyone though, so I remain mostly silent on this one point.

Moon over Florence at dawn

Tourists are a blessing and a curse. They allude to scale and atmosphere in an extremely positive way.

A good example here, where every other person was dressed in blue for a fun run supporting Breast Cancer. Justified use of selective color, I hope!

Corri La Vita

Transversely, I have a picture of a 5 metre high statue of Neptune disappointedly staring down at the touristy throng. He’s also surrounded by balloons, so not a great moment to shoot a moody image of the God Neptune!

Sometimes I will remove people, but not often. One of my tricks is to shoot many images and then stack them up in Photoshop. I will mask out people and mask in empty space from which ever layers provide this information. I think, in Windows, there is an app to ‘average’ your shots. This becomes terribly complex with bracketed exposures and, as I often do, shift my lens to get more image!

I’ll say it again. Shoot at dawn and there won’t be many others around.

I really don’t do this often, but these 2 would not move. So I moved them on 😉


As for techniques, I used Photomatix Pro for this one. The sun was just being a real pain in the a$$ and I ended up with 9 exposures of the same frame!

Amo Dawn

I’ll talk about scale soon. I have a whole host of images that simply do not translate to 900px wide.

Hope you found this interesting and please do tweet/pinterest/facebook share this post around 🙂


One response to Photographer Tips: Short Travel Breaks


    Really interesting Mike, and great photos as always – Learning a lot from you and Suzy!.. Have you used Magic Lantern at all? Just installed it, and provides some quite nice additional functionality in-camera like automatic exposure tracking of sunrises and sunsets, 9 exposure HDRs, and more.

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