I’ve been searching around for ways to improve my travel photography (which is average) and we’ve decided to run some reviews, hoping the books and courses might help you take better travel photos.

Through Photo Jaunt, I found Transcending Travel: A Guide to Captivating Travel Photography by Mitchell Kanashkevich is published by Digital Photography School (DPS), a long-running photo website that I have read quite often. A copy will set you back less than US$20, which is a great investment if you use the ideas in it to improve the quality of your once-in-a-lifetime travel photos.

Who’s it for?

The ebook starts with a solid introduction to DSLR camera bodies and lenses. This is not really a book for point-and-click shooters — although you’ll learn lots — but it is a great way to transition, up-skill and learning about Digital SLRs.

Being a solid point-and-click photographer myself, I thought the information was beginner-friendly, although I was a little lost with numbers at times. My photographer friends said the advice was solid. While I really enjoyed the tips on buying gear, I think that this kind of equipment is too heavy for me to carry. However, I am planning on hiring some for a week or two and having a play.

Telling your story

The next section on composition was amazing. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about telling a story with your photos, but this outlines how you might do that. I’ve got a media studies background, so I understand how to use the rule of thirds, but the use of lines, focal points and the “weight” of colours and objects was enlightening and the example photos were clear (and stunning!).

abandoned wharf in new zealand travel photo
Abandoned wharf in New Zealand

Light

Even more powerful than the composition section, was the advice on how to manipulate light for your desired effect. As well as natural light, leveraging time of day and things like windows and firelight, Mitchell offered examples with reflectors and flash as well as natural light, fog, and twilight. For those trying to replicate his efforts, the details of each shot is alongside the photos. You can see the type of lens, f-stop and other technical information — perfect for experimenting with different types of lighting.

Special effects

There’s a section which I jokingly referred to as “special effects” — those things you imagine are done in photoshop, but can actually be caught by a skillful photographer. There’s walk-throughs on capturing movement with freeze-frame, panning and motion-blur techniques which, combined with strong composition produces some amazing shots.

Photographing people

As travellers, we’re likely to be fascinated by the people we encounter as much, if not more than, the places themselves. But photographing random people on the street really isn’t ethical. Mitchell is well aware of this, and gives some brief tips on communicating with strangers, working with the language barrier, and asking for permission.

craig heading to ryan air flight
Craig heading to a RyanAir flight. Visual storytelling at work?

This is, in my opinion, an essential part of any book on travel photography, and I was glad to see the human element isn’t ignored. In fact, it’s given a whole segment which also includes several pages on posing your subject and working with them to have more relaxed shots … there’s nothing worse than a forced smile on an otherwise expressive face.

Photographing places

There’s something to be said for recreating the postcard representations of the places you visit; those scenes are likely to the subject of attention for a reason. Getting beyond that can be tricky though.

The book covers working with landscapes, building exteriors and interiors, plus found objects and other subjects that fall into the “places” category. Throughout this section there’s a strong focus on the use of creativity and light. This helps brings fresh eyes to familiar places, and I’ve found myself fixated by the play of light on buildings recently.

ransom winery auckland travel photo
Ransom Winery - Auckland, New Zealand

Final thoughts

This really is an excellent book and has helped my recent photos and certainly the composition in my video shots as well. There are beautiful, illustrative photos throughout, which are nothing short of inspiring.

There are lots of links to blogs and example photographers, and suggestions about how to find the photos you might want to analyse and re-create or deconstruct.

I only had two real critiques, which is unusual for me. First was the layout, in five columns across a horizontal page. I thought that was unnecessarily complex and slowed down my reading, making it difficult to come back to a paragraph when I wanted to.

travel-photography-sample
Sample page from https://indietravelpodcast.com/transcending

The second was the text itself. It was clear and helpful, packed with good information, however it could have done with a stronger editor to remove redundant phrases and pick up repeated words. Unless you’re very picky, I don’t think this will phase you and I wouldn’t let it dissuade you from taking on board the advice it offers.

I think I’m going to have some better photos and video coming up soon, not wasting so many unique experiences. Unfortunately, I now want to buy about five kilos of photography equipment … at least I’ll know how to start using it.

You can buy Transcending Travel here.

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