It’s difficult to stress just how important photography has been to our travel blogging career. In fact, it’s perhaps been the linchpin upon which it’s all turned: every press trip, every collaboration and every penny earned dependent on the flash of my battered Canon.
When we began Twins That Travel in 2014, we quickly realised the disruptive role that Instagram would play within the tourism industry. Long gone were the days of glossy travel brochures and sparkling television adverts, now a small square was selling a destination. With accounts such as Beautiful Destinations and Travel and Leisure quickly claiming the market, we decided to follow suit: making imagery our focus.
It’s maybe the first correct prediction we’ve ever made. With the explosion of visual content now threatening to eclipse the written word (and with Instagram’s reign looking set to continue), travel blogging today is a visual effort: the power of your images as important as the words you write. Invest in this content, and you can expect brands and followers to invest in you. Furthermore, with 60% of all digital impressions now driven by imagery, great photography will get you noticed.
Yet, it shouldn’t all be about likes and impressions. Photography is something that clears my mind; a hobby that makes me genuinely happy. As a kid, I’d often spend Sunday afternoons helping my Dad to develop film negatives. A few years’ later and I triumphantly arrived at university with a bulky DSLR camera. Given that this was still the golden age of the throwaway camera, it was a bold move to make. By 21, I’d bought my first Canon camera and at 24, I completed a photography course. However, it wasn’t until a little later that I decided I wanted to truly tackle photography: learning to shoot only in manual and regularly employing editing software.
Looking back through our Instagram account, it’s exciting to see just how much our photography has developed and changed. From over-exposed and harshly saturated images (we had a year long affair with a questionable HDR filter), our photography journey has been a long and meandering one. But ultimately, one that has been incredibly worthwhile.
With this in mind, we thought it might be useful to compile our photography tips for bloggers – detailing what equipment and software we’ve used across the years, and any lessons learned. My advice? Take your time and enjoy each stage. Although photography can seem a little daunting – a world filled with acronyms and baffling jargon – it’s no different to riding a bike or learning to drive; before you know it, you’ll be thinking about those ISO settings in your sleep.
Our Photography Tips for Bloggers
A ‘Starter’ Camera: The Panasonic Lumix Gx80
It seems that the blogging world is split into two camps: either those that use only the Olympus Pen, or (and at the other extreme), those dedicated to the advanced and eye-wateringly expensive Canon 5d.
Whilst the Olympus is often the model of choice for vloggers, the 5d boasts a ‘full-frame’. This effectively means that it has a large sensor, meaning high resolution, a wider frame and fantastic quality. When paired with a wide-angle lens, a full-frame camera has the potential to transform landscape photography.
But what if you’re neither a vlogger nor ready for an advanced level camera? It’s time to welcome the Panasonic Lumix Gx80.
A compact system camera (CSS), the Panasonic is an extraordinarily effective piece of kit. Complete with a 12-32mm kit lens, it offers flexibility when it comes to your shots and boasts inbuilt WiFi, allowing you to download images on the go.
Offering 4k video, with the ability to extract shots (great for capturing fast moving objects), the camera is also excellent for anyone hoping to capture video content. Indeed, it has masses of shooting modes, allowing you to try your hand at time-lapse videos, stop motion filming and fantastic panoramic shooting.
Whilst the camera does allow you to adjust your own manual settings (determining your own exposure, for example), I found the Intelligent Auto setting both intuitive and responsive enough to largely rely upon. For those still learning the basics of photography, this is incredibly useful.
Another feature I appreciated about this little camera was its post-focus option. Rather than agonising over what you want to focus on whilst taking a photograph (or your depth of field), this setting allows you to take a series of frames at different focus distances, bringing them together as a 4K movie file. From here, you can then tap the image on your screen to decide what you want to bring into focus and what you want to move out. It’s fun, useful and encourages users to get a little more creative with their shots.
For anyone looking for a small and compact camera – still able to deliver high quality and vivid images – I would highly recommend the Panasonic Lumix Gx80. My go to camera for many years, I still rely on it even now.
Read our full review of the Lumix Gx80 here.
Alternative models: A few years ago, I inherited my brother’s battered Canon Powershot G7X, which boasts the tagline: the expert’s pocket camera. With a range of versatile shooting modes, this little camera is ideal for those both still getting to grips with photography, and those beginning to experiment with adjusting their own settings.
Our photography tips for bloggers: If you are neither printing nor enlarging your images – instead largely posting to your blog or Instagram – there is no need to invest in a hugely costly camera and sensor. The Panasonic Lumix will still offer you incredible pictorial results, at a quality that is more than enough for the usual 1200 x 600 blog images.
The ‘Intermediate’ Camera: The Canon Powershot G1x Mark III
My foray into the Powershot series now underway, I quickly became a devotee to this range of small, yet professionally equipped cameras.
Indeed, one of our most trusted pieces of kit is now the Canon Powershot G1x Mark III. Although the dearest model in the Powershot range, this small camera is perhaps the best compact we’ve come across; used by both intermediate and advanced photographers alike. Combining the power and quality of the larger DLSR cameras, all within a compact design (complete with a retractable lens and fully articulated touchscreen), the Powershot G1x Mark III combines the best of both worlds.
Able to compete with my larger DSLR camera in terms of image quality and equally as effective in low lighting (it has an ISO range of 100-25,600), this is our go to camera when we want to travel without the weight of our larger models. For those interested in filming, the Powershot G1 x Mark III also films in vivid HD (although note, not 4k), with responsive autofocus and inbuilt stabilisation. As a result, we tend to film all our video content on it, including our short IGTV films.
With a large 24.2 megapixel APS-C sensor (APS-C means a crop-frame, rather than full-frame), the camera also creates photographs that can be subtly and powerfully edited in postproduction. Unlike lower quality images, this means we can tweak the subtleties of a photograph – e.g. shadows or highlights – without affecting the wider pictorial elements.
Overall, if you are after an advanced camera that offers incredible quality and reliability, without weight or bulk, the Powershot G1x Mark III is the camera for you. Although certainly an investment financially, it’s a camera with a long shelf-life: offering a valuable tool for both intermediate and advanced users.
Our photography tip for bloggers: this model also allows you to shoot in RAW. As we’ll come to later, this file format is extremely useful when beginning to edit your photographs in programmes such as Adobe Lightroom.
Taking Your Photography to the next level: the larger DSLR cameras
What is a DSLR Camera?
For many, the ‘DSLR’ is now simply synonymous with a ‘professional’ camera. Indeed, it seems the majority of bloggers – particularly travel orientated folk – now own one. The larger the camera, the apparently more dedicated you are to your cause.
Yet, what advantages does a DSLR camera really bring? And will buying one mean your photography is immediately transformed?
DSLR simply stands for ‘digital single-lens reflex camera’. Unlike ‘mirrorless’ cameras (e.g. most compact cameras), DSLRs employ a series of mirrors or a prism (in the more expensive models), to reflect the light coming through the lens, up into the viewfinder. The main advantage of using such a camera (as compared to using those with an electronic viewfinder), is that there is no pause or lag between the image you are viewing and the image taken. For those intent on taking carefully composed and exacting images, this is a significant advantage.
Secondly, with size comes the capacity for larger sensors. The result? Quality images. Larger sensors are fundamentally able to ‘see’ more light, meaning not only nuanced and detailed photographs, but increased flexibility for the shooter. When it comes to photographing in low light, e.g. indoors or in the early evening, the DSLR camera will offer far better quality images than a compact camera.
Furthermore, DSLRs offer the buyer choice when it comes to sensor size. Whilst many models offer crop-frame sensors (APS-C sensors), others offer full-frame sensors. In short, this means that whilst the full-frame offers you a larger image (equivalent to the standard frame of a 35mm film), the crop-frame sensors offer half of this. The result? Your photos will be inevitably cropped, with an inherent zoom applied. In landscape photography, this can be frustrating – although it can be remedied by using a wide-angle lens (note: ensure the lens works with an APS-C sensor first, before buying).
Lastly – and perhaps why I favour the DSLR models – is the ability to use a variety of versatile and wholly different lenses (something I’ll come onto a little later). This opens up an entirely new dimension to photography, enabling you to better tailor and manipulate the image in front of you.
What DSLR Camera is Right for You?
Given all of the above, you might be forgiven for thinking that DSLR cameras are only for advanced photographers. Not at all. When learning the basics of photography, I bought a DSLR almost immediately. Again, I opted for a Canon model, beginning with the Canon EOS 750D, before investing in the Canon EOS 700D.
Whilst there was not too much difference between the two models (I would see them as fairly interchangeable), both made for excellent entry-level cameras.
Providing instant quality, they also allowed me to get to grips with how these cameras work, including their more extensive settings. For a long while, I shot only on Auto, before beginning to experiment with other programmes (e.g. Shutter Priority, or Aperture Priority). This was fundamental in enabling me to eventually move onto shooting entirely in manual, and was a great way to learn the mechanisms of photography slowly and at my own pace.
What I Shoot On:
Today, I shoot largely on a Canon 7d Mark II. With a crop-frame sensor, this model does not offer a full-frame (this begins with Canon’s 6d model), but has nonetheless been indispensable to improving my photography.
Although touted as the camera of choice for wildlife or sports photographers, the Canon 7d’s advanced autofocusing system means that photographing busy streets or moving scenes is incredibly easy. It also offers a huge array of shooting settings, enabling me to experiment a little bit more.
Yet whilst the images are of a fantastic quality, it is not for this reason that I would choose the Canon 7d (or indeed any other DSLR). Instead, using a DSLR has allowed me to better understand photography – to finally grasp the theories surrounding lighting and the subtleties of aperture.
Whilst I enjoyed using compact cameras and Auto settings, they didn’t push me out of my comfort zone – forcing me to wrap my head around the mechanics of my hobby. A DSLR, however, certainly has done. It is this knowledge and experience that has ultimately improved my photography, rather than a costly or advanced camera.
Our photography tip for bloggers: SD cards also play an important role in delivering quality and finely detailed imagery. In short, the ‘faster’ your card (also referred to as its ‘write speed’) the more likely you are to capture crisp and detailed imagery. There are four different classes of SD classes: 10, 6, 4 and 2, with 10 being the fastest. I use this SanDisk Extreme Pro card, offering both a class 10 speed, alongside 64GB of memory.
One of the first lessons I learnt in photography was that you needn’t buy an expensive camera in order to capture beautiful shots. Instead, you just needed a good lens.
This is perhaps one reason why I’ve stayed with my beloved Canon 7D Mark II for so long – I’ve found I’ve been able to continually better my photography just by investing in additional lenses. As a travel blogger, I tend to depend on two different lenses: a wide-angle lens and a portrait lens. The wide-angle lens is indispensable when trying to capture large landscapes, whilst the portrait lens offers intimate shots of both the details and people that I come across on my travels.
A wide-angle lens is classed as anything with a short ‘focal length’. Rather than get into the technicalities of what a focal length is, the easiest thing to remember is that the shorter the focal length, the more of the world you’ll be able to capture. Wide-angle lenses are therefore considered anything from 35mm and below: including 14mm, 20mm, 24mm and 28mm lenses.
Wide-angle lenses also tend to have a greater depth of field, or a deeper amount of focus. This largely means that most of your image will appear in focus. Lenses with a shorter depth of field tend to hold one or two items in focus, whilst the background is blurred or unfocused. Depth of field is controlled by a setting called aperture.
I have two wide-angle lenses that I use. The first is the cheaper Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM lens. Importantly, this is a prime lens (or fixed lens), meaning you can’t zoom in or out.
The second lens I use is the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens, which falls under Canon’s ‘L series’ (its ‘flagship’ range). Although costly, this lens is perhaps the one I use the most: it is beautiful. Additionally, with a range of focal lengths (16mm being ultra-wide and 35mm useable for portrait photography) it’s also incredibly versatile.
I’ve always loved beautifully shot photographs in which the background falls away into a soft haze or blur (also referred to as ‘bokeh’). As such, I therefore bought a portrait lens almost immediately, opting for a prime lens (with a fixed focal length). Although using a prime lens requires more effort (you can’t zoom in or out, so often find yourself clambering around to get the right framing), it is worth it.
The lens I tend to use is the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 L II USM lens (another L Series lens). Again, this lens took me a long while to save for, but will be one that remains part of my go-to kit for a long while. Able to reach an aperture of 1.4, the lens offers a shallow depth of field, which is ideal for portrait photography. This simply means that more of your background will be out of focus, whilst your subject remains in focus. A cheaper alternative to this lens would be Canon’s EF 35mm f/2 IS USM lens (the same as the above lens, but not part of the L Series range).
When starting out with a DSLR (or even whilst photographing on the go), prime lenses can prove frustrating due to their limited focal range. You might want to therefore invest in a lens that has a wider range of focal points (although offering slightly less quality than a prime lens, they are still incredibly useful and effective). For a long time, I used the Canon EF-S 18-55mm lens and would recommend it as a cheap alternative to some of the more pricier of lenses.
Our photography tips for bloggers: if you do decide to purchase a DSLR and invest in additional lenses, please check that they are compatible with the model of your camera (and its sensor) before you buy. For example, not all wide-angle lenses work with cropped sensors (i.e. non-full frame cameras).
In 2016, Claire and I joined the GoPro Family and ever since, have religiously used these small but incredibly powerful cameras. Offering a unique and entirely different perspective to the traditional DSLR, the versatility of the GoPro means we can capture incredible shots that would not be possible on our Canon.
Offering an incredibly wide angle, vibrant colour and 4k videos, the GoPro is an unbelievably powerful bit of kit, and can be used in an endless number of ways. Whether you opt for the simple ‘selfie’ stick, employ the ‘jaws clamp’ to attach the GoPro to your bike, use the ‘chestie’ mount to capture brilliant point-of-view shots, or use the ‘dome’ to get those iconic underwater images, the GoPro is perhaps every creative photographer’s dream.
We use both the Hero5 Black and Hero6 Black when travelling. Although identical in appearance, the Hero6 boasts a faster processor, therefore unlocking higher resolution and frame options compared to the Hero5 Black. The Hero6 also offers better stabilisation and a zoom option. However, for those looking to capture basic shots – e.g. landscape or selfies – the Hero5 Black will be more than adequate.
Read our full review of the GoPro Hero5 Black here.
Our photography tips for bloggers: we recently bought the GoPro Karma Grip as an accessory for our GoPro cameras. This impressive piece of kit stabilises your filming, offering cinematic like footage that is incredibly smooth and of a professional quality.
For a long while, I was guilty of neglecting my cameras: throwing them to the bottom of my handbag rather than carefully storing them in a protective case. As a result, each ended up scratched and their lenses filled with (what I imagine) was the rosy dust of a Mac blusher. Indeed, I learned the hard way that a camera bag is an indispensable part of any photographer’s kit.
My irresponsible days behind me, I now tend to alternate between two camera cases. The first is a soft leather case from Canon that I can swing over my shoulder when heading on a short trip or visit. The second is a Lowepro backpack, which allows me to safely store my camera and lenses when walking or hiking (it is also the bag I take on the airplane – never leave your camera in your suitcase). Although a little more expensive, its range of compartments are incredibly useful and it keeps my camera entirely dry if it rains.
For my smaller compact camera (the Canon Powershot), I use this Canon case; made specifically for the Powershot range. Beautifully stylish and durable, it ensures that if I do throw the camera into the dusty confines of my handbag, it is at the very least protected.
For a long while, I ignored what others referred to as the ‘postproduction’ stage of photography. As far as I was concerned, editing a photograph simply meant opening iPhoto and enhancing an image’s saturation (my skin was an unusual shade of orange for many years). I couldn’t understand how investing in editing software (or indeed my editing skills) would improve my photography.
Until I downloaded Adobe Lightroom, that is.
The editing software of choice for most photographers, Adobe Lightroom is both instantly downloadable and affordable (I pay £9.99 per month for it, which comes with access to its mobile App). It is also a programme that has truly transformed my photography, enabling me to create images that are more engaging and ultimately, better presented.
Firstly, if you do intend to begin editing in Lightroom, it’s best practice to shoot in ‘RAW’ (the smaller compact cameras may not offer this option, but it’s worth investigating). In essence, a RAW image is one in which all image data recorded by the camera’s sensor is captured. In contrast, a JPEG file will compress some of this data (i.e. reducing the file size), thus meaning detail is inevitably lost. When we edit our photographs, we want as much of this detail as possible, as more detail means more editing options. Shooting in RAW will therefore allow you to edit your photographs in finer detail, and ultimately with better results.
For those new to Lightroom, I’d suggest you begin by just using the main editing toolbar to the right of the screen. From here, I was able to get to grips with making just a few adjustments to my images e.g. sharpening them, or reducing brightness. Just these small changes made a considerable difference to my photographs and allowed me to gradually develop my editing skills.
Our photography tips for bloggers: For those (like myself) who perhaps don’t have the time (or energy) to manually edit every photograph, then I’d highly recommend purchasing or downloading ready-made Lightroom ‘presets’. In short, presets offer a pre-determined set of adjustments, e.g. involving exposure, colour, sharpness, shadows and highlights. The result is a distinct ‘filter’ that is then applied to each image. This is particularly useful if you want to apply one particular ‘theme’ or ‘feel’ to your photography; curating, for example, an Instagram gallery.
Last, but most definitely not least, we come to photography courses. For many years, I found photography and all its complicated calculations to be utterly mind-boggling. I just couldn’t grasp how to correctly adjust my exposure, or how to determine what F-stop to shoot on. I’d therefore inevitably end up frustrated and irritated that my images didn’t turn out how I’d imagined, and mystified at how others seemed to master photography so quickly.
In the end, I decided there was only one thing for it: I needed to bite the bullet and take a course. It was perhaps one of the best decisions I ever made.
After looking at a range of courses (some intensive and residential, others distance learning), I opted for The Open University’s short Digital Photography course. Lasting just ten weeks, the course was offered entirely online, with the support of an experienced tutor. We also had two end-of-module assessments, alongside weekly tests to complete. The course introduced me to all the basics of photography, alongside how to begin to adjust my own settings – eventually learning to shoot entirely in manual. There was also a short introduction to photo editing, which was incredibly useful.
The course cost £200, which compared to many of the London -based residential courses, was incredibly well-priced. With an online forum and the support of other students, the course provided me with all the basic skills I needed to really understand photography; and from there, begin to improve.
Final Thoughts: our photography tips for bloggers
Photography can often seem a daunting and intimidating hobby. With an almost endless range of cameras on offer, and with complicated theories and concepts to learn, it’s easy to feel that photography should be the domain of just a talented few. This is not the case. My own journey with photography has been fourteen years in the making; and much of this time was spent believing it was a skill too complicated to truly master. I only wish I’d realised sooner how very learnable a skill it is.
I hope that our photography tips for bloggers have been a little helpful, and at the very least, have debunked or explained some of photography’s most basic concepts. Ultimately, and for anyone considering investing in their first camera, I’d urge you not only to go for it, but to have fun along the way. After all, that’s what photography should be about.
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