Fake it like a pro Dave’s guide to cheap and dirty travel photography

1: What are you here for?

Are you here for a good time or to make photos? Good photos don’t come for free, you have to work at them. If you want to have a nice time with your family forget the photos. Does a surgeon take their partner and kids into the operating theatre? (This is a rhetorical question - the answer is no.) Sorry, but taking photos means being focussed (ha ha) and that will make you unpopular with your travelling partner. Deal with it, or give up on getting good photos, or have an understanding partner who respects your creativity (love you, darling).

2: You need light.

Light is free. Nothing matters as much as the quality of light. If you think you can sleep in - forget it. Dawn is where it’s at. Nothing looks as stupid as a guy toting a Hasselblad round Venice at 10 in the morning. (You missed the good light by four hrs, buddy - and you’re still gonna burn money shooting film? Go home you LOSER. We fake pros stopped shooting three hours ago) Sunsets also have good light but everyone is awake and out at sunset, so it only works for remote locations. PS: Obvious point, but you must never use a flash for any travel photo. Ever. (If you’re asking yourself “Why not?” it may be beyond my power to help you.) The ONLY time you are allowed flash is for a grungy fashion shoot, and then it must be direct on-camera.

3: Size matters, but not as much as you think.

You need a big sensor, but not a really big one. If you’re going to make it look like you’re toting the bucks, you need APSC, but you don’t need Full Frame or Medium Format. (Sorry ‘bout that 4/3 - but I had to draw the line somewhere and your bodies and lenses are just about the the same size as mirrorless APSC)

4: Throw your zoom under a bus.

A zoom is the obvious choice for travel right? It’s so versatile. Sorry. Wrong answer. A zoom is the best way to lose your edge. Kit zooms are ipso facto all slow shit - or they would not be kit zooms. If you DO have a zoom, to be worthy it needs to be a 24-70 f2.8 on a full frame body which means $3K plus the cost of the FF body plus the cost of the truck to carry it. Take my point? If you’re toting an APSC DSLR with a kit zoom you might as well take a point and shoot compact. (Nothing wrong with a P&S compact BTW - but see below)

5: Get some fast glass - dirt cheap

What do pros have that you don’t have? Big heavy full frame bodies, tripods and expensive fast glass. What is the cheapest sharp lens in any range? The 50mm f1.8. If you shoot a 50mm on APSC it gives you 75mm equiv. And it’s sharp, so you can shoot it wide open to blur the background. In fact you should ALWAYS shoot it wide open, because, as a cheap lens, the bokeh balls won’t look sexy if you can see the aperture blades in them. (Sony 50mm f1.8 OIS - $400. Compare this with full frame Sony FE 85mm f 1.4 at $2800) And on the wide end? Something around 19mm f2.8 (28mm equiv) Useful for landscape

6: iPhone antithesis

Damn my iPhone takes great photos - so does everyone else’s. Your iPhone 6 shot of a mountain at noon will look pretty much like your Hasselblad X1D shot of a mountain at noon. So how can you make shots that your iPhone can’t? Here’s what your iPhone cannot do: Low light, selective focus, and blur. So to differentiate what you are shooting from the masses, use lots of selective focus (your 50mm at 1.8 on close subjects) Shoot in low light (like in the best light, dawn and dusk). Use blur (set your shutter to 1/15 for moving subjects for a start and see what happens)

Here’s what I’m taking to France for two months

Sony a6000

Cost: $800 (Note: I bought mine with free kit zoom plus $150 cashback, so $650 for camera and kit zoom. Ha!)

Why the Sony?

Because I can change the lenses and it focuses super-fast. I had been shooting a Nikon Coolpix A (16MP APSC, fixed 28mm equiv. compact camera. beautiful, sharp lens and sensor combo) for travel for 2+ years and finally I needed a different lens, and I needed a camera that would focus faster than the Nikon. Any camera I use for travel I need to be able to shoot one-handed. This is because I need to be able to shoot from a bike. A bonus with the Sony is the grip makes it really secure one handed, and I can also change the settings on it one-handed when riding a bike. This may not be an issue for you, but it is for me. Another bonus is the Sony has an EVF. Apart from meaning you can see what’s going on in daylight, you can also shoot slower speeds with an EVF because you hold the camera better. That’s it. The menus are difficult, but you just need to learn them. You can learn any menu, really. I think the sensor on the Sony is OK - I don’t really like it at 24MP at over 200ISO so I’ve set it to 12MP, which gives me a couple more stops, and I don’t want big files anyway. 4000x3000px is all I need. I shoot neutral jpegs and tweak them a little bit in post.

Sony 50mm f1.8 IOS

I like this lens. I shoot it wide open all the time unless it’s stopped down to get blur. (Or except in this shot were I used f 4.5 for a bit more DOF for the sprinkler) I leave the filter off, and shoot it into the sun whenever I can. I put the hood on to protect the front element and because it makes it better to hold when you’re shooting two-handed. $400.

Sigma 19mm f2.8 DN Art

$200 and sharper than the Sony 20mm that costs $400. I would have bought the Sony anyway because it’s smaller, and the PDAF on the Sigma only works in the middle, but I could not bring myself to buy a soft prime. I got spoiled by the super-sharp lens on my Coolpix A and I wanted my wide lens to be sharp. I’ve only just bought it but I like the look it produces.

About this story

The photos here are a subset of a photo essay I did in December 2016 about travelling with folding bikes. All the shots in this story were shot as jpeg on the a6000 with the 50mm f1.8 wide open, except the sprinkler shot taken at f4.5 for more DOF. Max ISO I used was 800. I did not have the 19mm Sigma then, but I took a couple on the kit zoom which were okay, but I did not use them.

Created By
David Hume
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