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1) Chasing light
I’m really not a morning person but, on travel shoots, I always force myself to wake up with or before the sun. Photography is all about light, so it's important to capture the most beautiful light possible. What also makes shooting in the early morning more preferable than the late afternoon is there are often fewer people and tourists. I found this to be especially true at Machu Picchu and Belvedere lookout, in Moorea. My assistant and I had heard about this lookout on top of Belvedere Mountain, in Moorea, and for this image, went to see it to take photos in the afternoon. The light, however, was all wrong; the sun glaring right into the camera and washing everything out. The sun rose at 6:00 a.m., and our hotel was in Tahiti, so we were on the first ferry over at 6:00 the next morning to get this shot. Once I’ve scheduled my important landscape shots for when the lighting is right, I schedule shooting food and interiors in the middle of the day when the light is harsh outside, but fine for interior shots.
2) Capture a person in the shot
Whether it's finding a photogenic local, animal, or someone traveling with you, what can elevate a generic postcard-perfect photo is adding a person for context or scale. Sometimes a place is very grand and majestic, but it's not translating in a picture. If you add a person to the image you can, all of a sudden, get a better sense of the scale of the place.
3) Tell a story through objects
On a shoot in Todos Santos, Mexico, I discovered a colorful game called Loteria, which is Mexican Bingo. I knew I wanted to use that in a photo so, at lunch one day, I fell in love with the surface of the table where we were eating and added my room key, Polaroids I had snapped, and a margarita—capturing the feeling of Mexico in a less expected way.
Portraits of local people can often tell more about a place than a landscape. It’s so important to be respectful and take the time to make your subject relax before taking a photo. Once, when shooting in a monastery in Cambodia, I met a monk I wanted to photograph, but did not feel it respectful or professional to just rush up and ask him for a shot. I decided to spend some time there first; I removed my shoes, received a water blessing, and gave an offering before asking the monk if he would mind if I took his photo. His face and compassionate eyes told of a deep and complicated history of life in Cambodia. The people of Belize are incredibly warm and friendly. After shooting a sailing trip through the islands there I gathered our captains for this photo, who were very proud to show the lobsters they had just speared. I’m glad I waited until a few days into our trip to do their portrait, because by then we had a nice rapport.
Everyone takes the same pictures at Machu Picchu, trying to get the whole site into one shot. But in this shot, I focused on a smaller section to show how green and graphic the stone work and architecture of the Incas was.
6) Take the path less traveled
In Siem Reap, we were told you have to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. “We” ended up being me and a few thousand other tourists, with their cameras already set up at 4:00 a.m. That day turned out to be cloudy and the whole thing was a bust. The next day we decided to go to Ta Prohm (where scenes from the film Tomb Raider were shot) at sunrise because we heard that the tourists usually start arriving there around 9:00 a.m. It's not a legendary one to see at sunrise, but we had it almost all to ourselves, with almost no other tourists getting in my photos.
7) Keep it simple
My kit is, honestly, very simple. I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark III, and the lens I use the most on travel jobs is the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L lens. I also love the 50mm for portraits, as well as the 70-200mm f/2.8L for wildlife. I still shoot some film and for that I use a Pentax 67II.
I’m a big fan of polarizers, and like this one from Hoya that doesn’t cause any vignetting. Also, for waterfalls, it’s great to have a neutral density filter (2 stops or 3 stops) and a tripod. I also shoot on a two-second self timer to reduce any camera shake.
|Jessica Sample is based in her native Los Angeles. From an early age, she traversed the world with her family to far-flung places like Bhutan, Africa, and Indonesia. Before coming home to California, she was previously the Deputy Photo Editor at Travel + Leisure, in New York, and a frequent photographer for the magazine. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Art Semiotics from Brown University, and has studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and the International Center of Photography. Her clients include Travel + Leisure, Condé Nast Traveller UK, National Geographic Traveler, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Coastal Living, GQ, Lonny, Sunset, The Wall Street Journal, Endless Vacation, C Magazine, Los Angeles Magazine, Angeleno, LA Confidential, Santa Barbara Magazine, Hemispheres, and Delta’s Sky Magazine. Sample was recognized as one of PDN’s “30 Photographers to Watch” in 2013.
Photo by Beth Garrabrant