Travel Photography – Advice from the Best
Travel changes us, changes the way we look at the world, even if it’s just our corner of it. Digital and phone cameras alike offer an avenue to capture these moments, to share them and to relive them over and over again. Although more accessible than ever, some question what equipment, skills and tools are needed to up their photography game. We went to the experts for the answers: Meet Marathon coach owners Murray Sielski, Wade Threadgill and Ed Cheeney.
“I get asked all the time, ‘What camera should I buy?’” said Murray. “I tell people one thing over and over again: If you’re the kind of photographer who, if you had a DSLR, never took it off auto or program, you should use your phone because today’s phones produce great photos. If you want to get more advanced, then you should probably buy a more mid-range prosumer camera. You don’t need the most expensive gear; you just need to know how to use your gear.”
For the last 20 years, Murray has used a Canon 1DX Mark II. He also keeps a Canon 5DS on hand for high resolution photos. When he doesn’t know what the day will bring, Murray’s go-to lens is a Sigma 24-105mm. Also in his bag of must-haves is a 12-24mm for super wide angle shots and a 300-800mm for wildlife and sporting events.
“I have a lot of lenses in the bus,” said Murray. “The team in service actually just made a storage cabinet for me – so I now have better storage for my lenses. We’re lucky that we have tons of storage in our bus, but when you’re out actually experiencing things on the road, you don’t want to lug all that stuff around.”
Marathon coach owner Wade Threadgill primarily uses Nikon cameras. “It’s a holdover from the days of film,” said Wade. “It’s important to do homework here, because once you start buying lenses, you get married to that brand. A nice fast lens will cost over a thousand dollars. After you get five or so lenses, you have invested a lot of money in that brand.”
When it comes to lenses, Wade’s go-to lens isn’t the same as his favorite. “My favorite is different than the one I use the most,” said Wade. “My favorite is my 600mm F2.8. It shows amazing details and allows close-ups of animals I could never get near, but it is HUGE and heavy at over 18 inches long and 8.5 pounds without a camera! My most used lens is a 24-70mm 2.8 zoom. It’s fairly small and it works in a wide range of everyday situations.”
Wade also has an Olympus underwater point-and-shoot, a Canon point-and-shoot, multiple GoPros, a Ricoh Theta 360, DJI drones and of course an iPhone. “Why all that?” asked Wade. “I like to take photos. I usually take photos every day and it’s not always practical to carry a big DSLR.”
With equipment to cover any situation, Ed doesn’t believe in traveling light. “It may seem like a lot to people,” said Ed, “but I am shooting both stills and video. There is always the ‘right tool for the job,’ so my selection has to have some variables in order to keep me happy.”
Even simple point-and-shoot cameras provide surprising results when equipped with the right lenses. “I have a number of lenses ranging from fixed focus, zoom and specialty (PC, Tilt-Shift, SFX),” said Ed. “If you want one lens to start with, I would suggest having a 24-70mm zoom to give you good range of focal lengths. Pay as much for it as you can as lens quality has a direct relation to the cost of the glass.”
- Camcorder: Sony PXW-FS5 4K XDCAM
- DSLR camera: Canon 5D Mark II
- 3 or 4 GoPros
- Phone: Samsung S8+ 4K UHD
- Aerial platform: DJI Phantom II 4K UHD
- Handheld camera stabilizer: Zhiyun-Tech CRANE 3S PRO
- Handheld gimbal stabilizer: Zhiyun-Tech Smooth 4
- High resolution audio recorder: Tascam DR-60DmkII digital multitrack field recorder with Sennheiser stereo shotgun microphone
- Tripod system: Sachtler Video 18 Fluid Head and Manfrotto 504HD carbon fiber system
- Mini-tripod with moving head
- Quick release by Peak Design Capture Pro: He used this to secure his camera during a hike in water at Zion
- Really good camera strap that adjusts easily: Peak Design Slide Strap (plus extensions and a piece to attach to a backpack)
- Functional camera bag – Think Tank Photo TurnStyle 20, which can be worn as a sling bag or belt pack (which is comfortably padded as is the strap)
- 2 DSLR cameras
- 5 Lenses: 14-24mm, 24-70mm,70-200mm, 200-500mm and a 105mm macro
- Chargers and spare batteries
- Lens cleaner, etc.
Shutter release button
“For me, the answer to ‘when to press the shutter release button’ is early and often, especially with animals because things are so unexpected,” said Wade. “If it looks like something is about to happen, that’s when I start. I can easily delete what I don’t want, but I usually get the moment I wanted. Back in the film days when I had 36 pics on a roll of film I had to be more precise. I captured many good pics then, but in sports and wildlife I sure missed a lot! I don’t miss much now.”
When it comes to travel photography, consider shooting for emotion: Capture what it feels like to be where you are in that moment; but don’t worry about getting the perfect photo as imperfections often provide visual interest or emotional depth to an image. Keep in mind that much like in life, looking at things from a different perspective is beneficial when looking through the viewfinder. In his latest book “Daido Moriyama: How I Take Photographs,” Moriyama recommends looking at people or things from every angle possible, even if that means walking around the block and then doing it again in the opposite direction.
Murray knew that finding a different vantage point was exactly what he needed to capture his incredible photo of a 6-month-old condor at Zion National Park. First learning about the hatchling at the Utah rally, he and wife Nathalie planned a trip back to Zion to see additional sights to those of the Club event.
“They hadn’t had a baby condor born in Zion in forever,” said Murray. “I stood there for six hours and got five or six tremendously good photos. That day, he was just learning to fly – he flew 10 times.”
Murray noticed that the condor was repeating a pattern: sitting on the edge of the rock face, hopping backwards and then disappearing from view.
“What he was doing was going around this corner; he would then launch himself from the peak and fly back to the same spot,” said Murray. “So if I hadn’t moved – standing on the side of the road to get something unique and different – I would never have been able to get these photos. When he stopped flying and I returned to where everyone was, a gentleman said, ‘Oh, you missed the great action,’ and I said ‘Well, actually no, you did.’”
Murray took approximately 2,000 photos of the condor that day, narrowing those down to five favorites. “If I’m shooting wildlife or sports, I’m looking for the moment of peak action. So in the condor photo, what I was really trying to get was that moment just as he’s taking off. And then I’ve got another photo at the moment where’s he’s landing, so his feet are stretched out as he’s ready to land.”
Ed also considers patience as a photography skill. “As a beginner, you don’t necessarily know when to push the shutter button, so just push away: click, click, click,” said Ed. “Anyone today has the luxury of digital, so the more you shoot, the better. In time, you will begin to see when and how timing works. A lot of knowing ‘when to press the shutter button’ comes from being in the moment: anticipate, patience, patience, patience and then ZING you have it – the shot of a lifetime.”
When it comes to post-processing software, Ed, Wade and Murray recommend Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.
“I think most people who are photo enthusiasts overlook post-processing,” said Wade. “Don’t make that mistake. This is where an average photo can become great, and a great photo can become amazing.”
Ed encourages budding photographers to control the image-making through the camera shot as much as possible so little adjusting is needed. “It is really up to the individual,” said Ed. “There are no rules.”
For processing high resolution video, Ed recommends more Adobe Creative Suite software: Premiere and After Effects. “I have to admit most of my images and video go back to our office in Michigan where a couple of very talented people view, edit, process and finalize our material for the number of uses we have,” said Ed.
From printing group photos for rally attendees in his on-bus lab to creating coffee table books from photos taken by an array of Club members at Marathon events, Murray is known for spreading joy through photography and implores modern shutterbugs to get their fun and moving shots off the devices and into the world.
“When we have people over, we have a slideshow of photos I’ve taken displayed on our big TV,” said Murray. “Plus, I have a really big monitor that I use. The people who owned our bus before us removed one of the recliners to put in a giant occasional table, which has worked out perfectly for me. The guys in service updated it so I could have my computer inside and display monitor above. When we have guests, I just turn it sideways and it becomes an oversized digital photo frame.”
Every Sunday, Murray’s wife Nathalie composes an email for their families, in which 50 images has become expected. If compiling dozens of photos and writing a weekly newsletter seems daunting, don’t despair, there are other options. For example, with SnapShot Postcard, it’s easy to send physical postcards from a phone or tablet. Simply download the app, select a photo to send to friends or loved ones and type a message. After inserting the address from your phone’s address book and clicking the credit button (each credit costs between $0.96-$2.39 depending how many you choose to purchase at one time), the company prints, stamps and mails your postcard. For those whose cameras have built-in Wi-Fi, it’s easy to transfer photos from camera to device; however, a simple selfie – shot with and sent from your phone – is sure to be treasured as well.
From asking Siri or Alexa how-to questions to looking up video tutorials on YouTube, the digital age provides immediate answers. Wade recommends lynda.com for technical know-how, while Murray endorses kelbyone.com.
“I like lynda.com,” said Wade. “They have all kinds of courses for every skill level. I also recommend Instagram. Follow tags that appeal to your style and interests. As an example, #nuts_about_birds has the most amazing bird photos from both amateurs and professionals. You may be amazed at the inspiration that follows. If you see a picture that you have no idea how it was done, you can send the person who took it a message and they usually will be more than happy to share their tricks and techniques.”
Ed recommends researching gear online before making any major purchase. Professionals and mere enthusiasts alike are constantly testing cameras, gear and programs. For phone cameras, he recommends readers consider using the following apps depending on their location and photographic interests: Adobe Lightroom, Tide Charts, Storm Radar, Sky Map, Film Buddy, GPS Test, Compass, Clinometer and Lux Light Meter.
“Please be careful of scam apps,” said Ed. “Make sure you read what is involved. For the phone apps, know that most of the best are free.”
For inspiration, Murray often visits 500px.com. “Many times, when I’m going to a place I don’t know a lot about, I’ll go to this website and type in where I’m visiting. I’ll see photos other people have taken, which oftentimes spurs me on to places to go and see. If you’re a photo-oriented person, that’s a really great resource from people all around the world.”
Most importantly, have fun. Take your time, be in the moment and think like an artist. Chase the light. An easy rule of thumb is to seek the golden hours: slightly after sunrise and right before sunset. Consider arriving at your destination before the crowd or staying late until after they leave.
“Here are two of my tips: Go where people aren’t going, and don’t stand in the same spot as everyone else,” said Murray. “Look for a different perspective. You’ll see me when I’m out there. My camera will be on the ground or on my tiny tripod, and I’ll be sitting down really low to get something different.”
Murray: “One of my favorite photos from last fall was taken in one of the national parks in Utah. My camera’s sitting on the road and the yellow line dividing the highway is leading to a beautiful landscape out there. Photography is about finding different things. If you’re standing around 20 other people and you’re standing up, you’re getting the same shot as everyone else. My feeling is always try to get something different. When Nathalie was watching me go through my photos to pick some favorites, she said, ‘Well don’t pick that one. I know where you took it – anybody could get that photo.’ So try to get something different.”
Wade: “A favorite? I have hundreds, maybe thousands! This is not a technically great photo, but it is one of my favorites for what is represents. It was taken at Custer National Cemetery on our way to the Zion Rally. As is often the case on RV trips, we stumble across places we hadn’t known existed. While we were there, I noticed this lady walking around. After a few minutes she came to one, read it, placed her hand on the stone for a moment, then stepped back and stood. It was about then I thought about taking the photo. I wasn’t sure if I should, but I was a good distance away as not to disturb her. This photo makes me think of not only all those who have served, but also the ones impacted by that service forever.”
Ed: “Ah! The Florida Keys: What could be better than to pull your Marathon Coach alongside the cerulean blue ocean? Having a coach with such luxury sleeping and living accommodations and right next to the water is our ultimate dream. During the Marathon Coach Club’s Florida Keys Rally, we were able to do just that. Stepping out our door, just three or four steps from the dock, is always a thrill for me. I love to go to bed at night and be lulled by the sound of water out my master bedroom window. It doesn’t get any better than that.”