Close this search box.

Travelling with distinction

22 February 2022

Award-winning photographer Tracey Scott shares a few of the secrets that helped her win the Travel category in the 2021 Iris Professional Photography Awards

Photos: Tracey Scott

Travel might be a bit of a sore point in the time of Covid, but even as borders close the desire to experience the diverse sights of our world continues to burn. Rotorua’s Tracey Scott was last year named New Zealand’s top professional travel shooter and she has kindly shared a number of tips to help you hone your travel photography at home, so you’re match-ready once international travel is back on the cards.  

Poland, Nikon D810, 70mm, 1/50s, f/4, ISO 1250

Tip 1: Open your mind

Planning and preparation are important in most styles of photography, but when you’re creating travel images in a place you’ve never been before, you don’t want to get ideas fixed in your head before you’ve had a chance to fully explore a location’s possibilities.

“Travel photography for me is all about just being in the moment, watching what unfolds in front of me,” says Tracey. “Seeing what the locals see, not what the tourists see.”

When she travels she generally lets go of any fixed ideas of what she will capture, letting her destination present its own opportunities.

Poland, Nikon D810, 70mm, 1/50s, f/4, ISO 1250

Tip 2: Don’t follow the crowd

Some travel locations have iconic features that almost every visitor will want to experience and likely photograph. That’s good fun on a visit, but it can be difficult to shoot a unique image of a space that is being photographed by hundreds of other visitors every day.

“I try to avoid recognisable things and places,” says Tracey. “I don’t tend to travel to tourist spots. If I’m standing in front of the Eiffel Tower and everyone is looking up and photographing it, chances are I’ll be looking at the lady riding past on her bike looking very Parisian.”

That doesn’t mean your lovely shot of the Taj Mahal or the Wanaka tree is any less beautiful, just remember that every destination has more to offer than the iconic sights.

China, Nikon D810, 200mm, 1/640s, f/5, ISO 2000

Tip 3: Embrace it all

So, if you’re not looking to shoot the big tourist attractions, what do you look for in an interesting travel scene? Tracey’s answer is simple: everything.

“My style is to wander and feel the atmosphere, soak it all in, sometimes when you’re in a big city that can come down to architecture or shapes, forms, light, shadows, movement, colours.”

Tracey creates some wonderfully graphical and abstract travel images which, while not instantly recognisable, provide a vivid experience of a destination’s mood.

Ethiopia, Nikon D810, 70mm, 1/50s, f/4, ISO 1250

Tip 4: Right technique for the job

While you don’t want to get hung up on preconceived ideas of the places you’ll visit, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan to be able to shoot in the style you enjoy. In some of the images here, you’ll see Tracey has used double exposures to create certain effects. She shot these on a mirrorless Fujifilm X-T1.

“I enjoyed the ease of the in-camera double exposures and I found that often it was better to go to some destinations with a small camera. That way no one takes any notice of you looking just like a tourist. 

“The double exposures can add texture or depth or a little more storytelling to an image, so I use it to add variety or another dimension to the images.”

Ethiopia, Nikon D810, 85mm, 1/1600s, f/7.1, ISO 800

Tip 5: What to pack

When it comes to gear, travel photography is all about the balance of being prepared while not overdoing it with the luggage you’ll need to haul around. 

Tracey packs almost everything on a trip; camera bodies, a nice range of lenses, tripod, about 30 memory cards, and a 1TB external hard drive. “Sometimes I pack a flash but I’m not sure I’ve ever used it.”

This big cache of equipment lives wherever Tracey has made her base for the trip, but when she’s out and about only the bare essentials leave with her. She loads up a day pack with a single camera and two lenses and is out the door. 

China, Nikon D810, 135mm, 1/320s, f/18, ISO 1600

Tip 6: How to hunt

If you’re skipping the popular attractions, how exactly do you go about finding interesting scenes in a place you have never been to before? Adopt a street photographer mindset and hit the pavement, Tracey says.

“I like to just wander, often with headphones on listening to music. Sometimes if I like a backdrop, I’ll stand and observe life going on before me. I’ll wait until something happens in front of that backdrop or something resonates with me. Then I’ll spend time just looking to photograph what it is that has caught my attention: often, it’s something quite mundane.”

Poland, Fujifilm X-T1, 33mm, 1/500s, f/4, ISO 2500

Tip 7: Asking permission?

When visiting someone else’s home, you always want to be a respectful guest. So, does that mean you should stop and ask if it is appropriate for you to be photographing before every shot? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to that — it will depend on myriad factors. It is your job as a photographer to explore those factors fully and discover the best way to proceed.

“When travelling through Ethiopia, I would often photograph things happening from out the car window,” explains Tracey. “They were records of fleeting moments; the whole intent was for them to be very documentary in content. Other times when we were spending time in villages, I would stop to photograph someone then definitely yes, I would ask their permission.”

Australia, Nikon D700, 24mm, 1/400s, f/13, ISO 400

Tip 8: How to be great

You’ve got the fundamentals down, a nicely curated bag of kit, and Tracey’s advice firmly in mind — but how do you move your travel image output from good to great? The current New Zealand Travel Photographer of the Year has two words for you: be yourself.

“Don’t do what everyone else has done before, don’t go on photo tours where they take you to a set up model in a location as everyone will get the identical Image. Go somewhere different, look for a fresh perspective, look at the world through your own eyes.

“Photograph your view of the world.”