Give me a break

Head­ing off on a short city break this sum­mer? Keen trav­eller Ge­off Har­ris shares some tips for get­ting the best pos­si­ble shots in a short space of time

Amateur Photographer - - 7days -

Ge­off Har­ris pro­vides his top tips for get­ting the best shots on a city break

The world has re­ally shrunk over the past cou­ple of decades, and thanks to com­pe­ti­tion be­tween bud­get air­lines, fly­ing to Rome or Barcelona can be cheaper than get­ting the train to Lon­don, Manch­ester or Aberdeen. City breaks have never been more pop­u­lar, and most AP read­ers will want to take along at least some of their cam­era gear for photo op­por­tu­ni­ties. How­ever get­ting to that won­der­fully pho­to­genic Euro­pean city, or a pic­turesque Bri­tish town like Ox­ford or Durham, is the easy part. A far big­ger chal­lenge is tak­ing high-qual­ity shots which will stand the test of time, es­pe­cially if you’re only there for a few days. To give you the best pos­si­ble chance of suc­cess, I’ll be shar­ing some hard-won tips and in­sights over the next few pages, while also rec­om­mend­ing some light­weight cam­era and lens com­bos and ac­ces­sories to en­sure you don’t bust your lug­gage al­lowance, or your back.

Once you’ve de­cided where to go for a city break, it’s im­por­tant to be clear about your goals, as well as be re­al­is­tic about the amount of time you’ll have for pho­tog­ra­phy. If you’re con­tent with a few nice ‘record’ pic­tures, there’s ob­vi­ously go­ing to be less pres­sure than if you hope to put to­gether a panel for a pho­to­graphic so­ci­ety/cam­era-club award, or take im­ages good enough to sell or en­ter into a travel com­pe­ti­tion. Sure, you may have quite mod­est goals and be pleas­antly sur­prised at how well your im­ages turn out, but it’s good to think about your mo­ti­va­tions in ad­vance.

That de­cided, you then need to think about who you’ll be go­ing with. A solo trip or cam­era-club jaunt usu­ally means you have carte blanche for pho­tog­ra­phy, but chances are you’ll need to com­pro­mise if you’re go­ing away with

your part­ner, fam­ily or friends. Ask­ing tired travel com­pan­ions to hang around in the heat while you try and get just one more shot of the Colos­seum with an un­clut­tered back­ground is likely to fray tem­pers – add young kids to the mix and it can be a night­mare. Then there can be ar­gu­ments about where to go, as not every­one will be in­ter­ested in schlep­ping out to ‘that bridge on the edge of town which is sup­posed to be great for sun­sets’. As we’ll see later, a good way around this is to get up early, while your trav­el­ling com­pan­ions are still asleep. Ris­ing at stupid o’clock might seem a bit un­fair when you’re sup­pos­edly on a re­lax­ing break, but se­ri­ous travel pho­tog­ra­phy ain’t no hol­i­day (and you can al­ways kip af­ter lunch).

Care­ful pack­ing and re­search

None of this will be a big rev­e­la­tion to ex­pe­ri­enced trav­ellers, but the next job is even more im­por­tant – to think care­fully about what you’re go­ing to shoot, and what you’re go­ing to shoot it with. Un­less you’re fa­mil­iar with the city, do­ing some re­search be­fore you go is ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial on a short trip. As some of the im­ages here will re­veal, I was in Rome re­cently for the first time. Frus­trat­ingly, my ho­tel was out in the sub­urbs, so I was pretty disori­ented when the shut­tle bus dropped me off by the Cir­cus Max­imus. Be­cause I’d done my re­search and had a check­list of must-get shots, how­ever, I quickly got my bear­ings with­out wast­ing time try­ing to find the tourist of­fice for ideas.

Ma­jor cities like Rome or Paris will have

been pho­tographed to death, so do­ing your re­search also lets you see what other pho­tog­ra­phers have tended to fo­cus on, giv­ing you the choice of aspir­ing to the same qual­ity or try­ing some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent. There’s noth­ing wrong with tick­ing off the es­sen­tial clas­sics, and in­deed, many pho­tog­ra­phers like to do this be­fore try­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent, but you shouldn’t run out of time. Re­mem­ber the old say­ing ‘garbage in, garbage out’. In other words, make an ef­fort to look at what other great pho­tog­ra­phers have come away with. Turn to Char­lie Waite’s book on Venice, for ex­am­ple, rather than a lot of over­sat­u­rated snaps of St Mark’s Square in Google Im­ages. Your hit list should then help you to de­cide what cam­era and lenses (e.g. wide or tele­photo) to take along.

I con­fess, I’m a ter­ri­ble over­packer, and have paid the price in terms of aching mus­cles. Worse still, weigh­ing your­self down with too much gear can ac­tu­ally put you off from tak­ing pho­tos in situ, par­tic­u­larly in ex­treme temperatures, and can an­noy trav­el­ling com­pan­ions. So, be re­al­is­tic about what you need to take. See the Kit List on page 12 for some city break es­sen­tials, but no mat­ter where you go, it’s nearly al­ways a good idea to take along a sim­ple fil­ter like a po­lariser, a prime lens for por­traits (th­ese are of­ten lighter than zooms) and a light­weight travel tri­pod for cre­ative long ex­po­sures in low light. Op­tional ex­tras, like flash­guns or a video har­ness, might be best left at home, but it comes down to what you in­tend to shoot. Check and recheck be­fore you leave; you don’t want to find out on the plane that

The joy of serendip­ity

Once the city break starts, you’ll want to make the most of your avail­able shoot­ing time. As men­tioned, get­ting up at the crack of dawn can be an ideal way to get shots at the blue hour, or in that lovely early-morn­ing light, with­out hav­ing to dis­turb your com­pan­ions or bat­tle the ubiq­ui­tous selfie-stick mob. Pack for low-light shots the night be­fore.

Even with pow­er­ful im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion sys­tems, long-ex­po­sure shots in low light nearly al­ways ben­e­fit from a tri­pod, par­tic­u­larly if you go slower than 1/15sec. To avoid cam­era shake as you jab the shut­ter but­ton, re­mem­ber to use a re­mote re­lease, whether ca­ble or Blue­tooth, and if all else fails use the cam­era’s self-timer. Re­duce the ISO if nec­es­sary dur­ing long ex­po­sures, and if fo­cus­ing man­u­ally in low light, it’s more ac­cu­rate to check this by zoom­ing in to crit­i­cal parts of the scene with live view, rather than peer­ing through the viewfinder (you can also use fo­cus peak­ing on mir­ror­less sys­tems).

Long ex­po­sures are also great for ‘ghost­ing’ crowds or traf­fic trails, cre­ative ef­fects which can add char­ac­ter to oth­er­wise done-to-death lo­ca­tions. Prior re­search will have also told you whether in­ter­est­ing and pho­to­genic spe­cial events, like car­ni­vals or pro­ces­sions, are tak­ing place dur­ing your stay.

Last but not least, walk, walk and walk some more. Walk­ing around even the most heav­ily pho­tographed tourist at­trac­tion of­ten en­ables you to see it from dif­fer­ent an­gles. I re­mem­ber see­ing a pho­tog­ra­phy work­shop all lined up on the Rialto bridge in Venice with tripods, tak­ing ex­actly the same shot. Noth­ing wrong with this tech­ni­cal les­son, but they all got... ex­actly the same shot. Walk­ing and ex­plor­ing also opens you up to serendip­ity: chance dis­cov­er­ies and en­coun­ters that can yield some fan­tas­tic pic­tures. Try and work out your sched­ule and shot list so you get to spend some qual­ity time in a lo­ca­tion, rather than charg­ing around and get­ting stressed out.

Walk­ing around also means you can in­ter­act with the lo­cals. Al­though this is some­thing less-ex­pe­ri­enced travel pho­tog­ra­phers can find dif­fi­cult, it’s of­ten the lo­cals who give you unique pic­tures. Even if you can’t speak the lan­guage, don’t be afraid to go up to some­body in­ter­est­ing and ges­tic­u­late that you’d like a photo. As Martin Parr ob­served, if you are pos­i­tive, friendly and don’t ap­pear em­bar­rassed, they’ll of­ten agree. The worst that can hap­pen is they refuse, and there will al­ways be some­one else around that next cor­ner.

‘Walk­ing and ex­plor­ing also opens you up to serendip­ity: chance dis­cov­er­ies and en­coun­ters’

Leave time in your sched­ule for long ex­po­sure shots at the blue hour, be­fore sun­rise or af­ter sun­set

Ge­off Har­ris

As well as be­ing AP’s deputy ed­i­tor, Ge­off is a keen travel pho­tog­ra­pher who loves city breaks as much as longer-haul trips. In 2016, he reached the fi­nals of the Pink Lady Food Pho­tog­ra­pher of the Year with a travel im­age (be­fore join­ing the staff of AP).

Don’t for­get mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture – this is the stun­ning Metropol Para­sol in Plaza de la En­car­nación in Seville

Don’t rule out more ex­otic city breaks: Fez in Morocco is less than three hours from many air­ports you’ve left your tri­pod base plate or bat­tery charger at home.

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