Tips for underwater photography and more (iStock)
List Words : Photo of the Year Winners | 21 September

5 tips for adventure travel photographers

Winner of last year's People category in the Wanderlust Travel Photo of the Year competition, Johnny Lawlor, offers his tips on how to take adventurous shots

1. Pack for the elements

Whatever your terrain, cameras have many enemies. Dust, sand, salty spray, humidity and extreme temperature changes can all play havoc on your camera and your shots. It could be a smudge on your sensor or sudden condensation.

One simple precaution against all of these terrors is a sealable plastic bag, or if your budget allows, an all-weather camera cover. This can also be used when changing lenses to minimise the small vacuum effect, which can draw dust inside your camera.

To keep your equipment secure, make sure your camera bag is well padded, includes an all weather cover and has a few de-humidifying sachets inside. Memory cards are very robust but in extreme or changing environments a hard case is a worthy addition as well.

Batteries lose their charge faster in cold environments so keep them wrapped somewhere warm, such as in your sleeping bag next to your body. Pack some lens cloths and a dust blower, and remember to regularly check and clean your equipment to maximise its life span.

2. A digital masterpiece

It may be considered cheating by some, but you can craft your image to highlight your environment or go beyond the usual visual experience to make your photographs stand out. There are a host of exciting digital options, all of which require planning and specialised equipment to carry out correctly in the field.

Software such as PTGui does an excellent job of seamlessly stitching together panoramic images. This can be accomplished with hand held shots with practice. Although, for more consistent success and urban or architectural panoramas, a tripod and panorama head are vital. Also bear in mind the dynamic range of a panorama will almost certainly be beyond the range of your camera's sensor. This makes a tripod even more essential as a series of bracketed shots can be nicely blended into an eye catching HDR (high dynamic range) panorama.

Why stop there? If you have the inclination for some pre-planning and post-processing (along with lugging extra gear), plan for a 360º or even full spherical panorama... What used to be a very lengthy and hi-tech process is now just a few clicks, if planned and executed appropriately.

Aside from panoramas, consider an intervalometer for time-lapse sequences or super long exposures, and extreme neutral density filters (up to 10 stops) to render moving water or clouds an attractive blur.

3. Unforgettable accessories

The only thing more annoying than carrying loads of photographic gear, which you may rarely use, is not having the right gear during that pivotal moment. There are a host of accessories to consider, some more vital than others.

Always carry more charged batteries than you think you will need. All batteries have a shelf life beyond which they begin to lose their charge faster. Cheaper third-party batteries usually work fine but may have half the shelf life of a brand battery. Batteries are obviously useless unless you carry chargers and the requisite charger adaptor for the region you are in (I always carry a travel adaptor pack with different regional connectors clearly labelled). Remember your strobe (or flash) may also need extra AA batteries.

Carefully consider what kind of bag you will require for your given environment and/or activities. There is no one perfect bag but different bags for different situations. Crumpler offers practical yet street smart bags encompassing camera, laptop and day pack space. Whereas LowePro have a nice selection of very robust compartmentalised and customisable bag. For adventure travel a secure tripod mount can be vital, and trekkers may want to consider a built-in hydration pack.

Depending on terrain and activities, other items to consider include a pen knife, mini travel towel, card reader, sealable plastic bags, dust blower, lens cloth, polariser, UV and neutral density filters and even a backup hard drive.

4. Below the surface

At a time when many of the world's great reefs are in danger and so many enigmatic species are threatened, it is a great time to get involved and make the seas more valuable healthy than exploited. When shooting underwater photos, whether diving or snorkelling, the first decision is how much of an initial investment to make. Beginners should dive in with a waterproof compact with at least a 5m, or preferably 10m, waterproof rating.

Beyond these snorkelling depths it is necessary to consider a marine case. There are now a host of options available, which are typically rated to about 40m (probably deeper than you'll ever go). A longer term investment would be a third-party housing such as those from Ikelite and Fisheye, which are more serviceable, robust and importantly, include the option for external waterproof strobes, though they are considerably more expensive.

Beyond this level we're talking serious bucks for professional quality DSLR housings and strobes. Are they worth the money? Well, if you have the opportunity to actually use them, absolutely! The main advantage is speed in an environment where the delay on a compact can be the difference between a crisp shot and a watery blur.

5. Social ethics

Whatever the adventure, it is generally the local people who bring the soul to breathtaking photographs (in my opinion). However, almost everyone has a camera these days and too often this seems to imply a license to be, at best, oblivious and inconsiderate, or at worst, disrespectful and invasive with locals' lives.

My advice? Know when to put the camera down. Seek permission before risking trivialising someone's place in this world, not just as a token gesture but with sincerity and respect. If they hesitate, do not pursue. At least not until a mutual understanding and trust has been established. In my opinion, successful portraiture will consequently benefit from a greater degree of integrity and honesty.

After all, it takes time, patience and an open mind to fully engage your subject with the requisite degree of respect and trust, whereas most of us are just passing through. There is little to beat those rare moments of jovial photographic interaction with complete strangers in a special place who are just as curious about you as you are about them.

Johnny Lawlor was the winner of last year's Wanderlust Travel Photo of the Year People category. You can see his winning shot here.

Want to win this year's competition? Find out how to enter here.