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Ten Tips for Taking Expedition Travel Photos You'll Cherish

Want to get an awesome snapshot of an adorable puffin, a sparkling blue glacier, a rustic fishing boat, or the delighted smiles of family and friends? Photographs make lasting and meaningful souvenirs. Here are ten tips for any enthusiastic amateur photographer to capture beautiful images on your next once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Happy guest with camera Ilulissat Greenland

© Martin Lipman

1. Have Fun!

It may sound obvious, but this is probably the best tip I can give. If you are not relishing the process of travelling and taking photos, then what’s the point? You’re there to enjoy yourself! The professional photographers on every Adventure Canada expedition will provide you with a digital folder of their best shots from the trip. Remembering this can help to lift any pressure you may be feeling so you can focus on exploring new places, experiencing new things, and making memories with every step.

Put down your camera every once in a while and be present with the people and places with whom you are surrounding yourself. Be interested and inspired by this context and use your camera to not only preserve memories but to experiment and create new perspectives as well.

Day 13 Kangerlussuaq selfie

© Danny Catt

2. Expect the Unexpected

Although you can prepare and plan as much as you like, my experience has always been that photography needs a dash of luck to really work out—you’re out in the elements after all! Being in the right place at the right time does wonders for your images, which means that having a simple, compact kit with ready-to-go settings means you can be prepared for anything.

Maximizing your time out on deck will give you the best chances for spotting and photographing whales and seabirds, while storing your camera at the top of your day pack will make it easy to access if a playful seal pops up on a Zodiac ride. Whenever possible, keep your camera close at hand so you’re not scrambling to get organized when the perfect shot presents itself. Don’t worry if you’re taking lots and lots of photos—the reality is that one or two really incredible images are the result of a hundred slightly less incredible photos.

Guests using cameras in Zodiac Dundas Harbour

© Victoria Polsoni

3. Keep It Simple

While social media and magazine spreads may have you convinced that you must have the latest and greatest technology, the reality is that you absolutely do not need to have a fancy camera to capture great memories! You can create beautiful travel photos with that old point-and-shoot that’s been banished to a drawer or even the cellphone sitting in your pocket.

DSLR cameras with multiple lenses are good for capturing fast-moving or far-away objects, such as a bird in flight over the ocean. They're also good to use if you plan on printing out your images because of the larger sensor. But it is entirely up to you and your skill, budget, and goals when it comes to creating your photography kit. (Don’t forget, you can always leave the heavy gear at home and borrow cameras, lenses, and other equipment through our on-board Nikon lending program.)

Personally, I have found that less is more when it comes to my kit. I use one DSLR camera and stick with two to three lenses: an all-purpose 55-70mm zoom, a 70-200mm telephoto, and occasionally a wide-angle if I know I’m going to be visiting somewhere with sweeping landscapes or stunning architecture. Travelling with only a few pieces of equipment means less time spent changing lenses and more time enjoying your surroundings!

Guests with point and shoot cameras Sable Island

© Danny Catt

4. Do Your Homework

Once you have your equipment sorted out, you need to know how it all works! Before you leave home, get out that instruction manual and become acquainted with all the settings and abilities your camera has to offer. Understanding your tools before heading out into the wild is imperative, so try going on a photo walk around your home to practice before your trip. This saves you the headache of trying to figure out the best settings or how to navigate from screen to screen in the moment.

With practice, I’ve learned how to switch lenses swiftly and I now carry a camera bag with a waterproof cover, which gives me easy access to my equipment. This bag also doubles as my daypack so I can have everything I need on hand. That being said, there is no harm in trying new things while on the move—this is how I discovered my camera takes photos in black and white! I didn’t even know that was a possibility until I chose a setting on the fly and only read about it when I was back home.

Guest photographing birds Sable Island

© Danny Catt

5. Stock Up

To avoid disappointment, make sure you have enough memory card space and battery power. Bring extra camera batteries and sufficient chargers to top them all up overnight—and don’t forget the appropriate plug converters for the ship! This is especially relevant to Arctic expedition travel, where the cold can suck the life out of your batteries in the blink of an eye and the only electrical outlets are back in your cabin on board.

While you’re at it, make sure to bring extra memory cards or buy some from the on-board gift shop. The last thing you want is to run out of space right before an awesome polar bear sighting! These are simple tips but can be easily overlooked.

Guests on deck using cameras and binoculars

© Victoria Polsoni

6. Learn the Rules of Photography and then Throw Them Out the Window

With our Nikon ambassadors and professional photography guides on board, you can look forward to educational programming such as hands-on workshops and photo walks ashore. One common trick you’ll hear of is the rule of thirds. In a nutshell, imagine a 3x3 grid overlaying the scene you want to photograph. Where the lines of this grid intersect or on the lines themselves is where you should place your subject.

This technique prevents you from having horizon lines or objects right smack in the middle, and creates a more balanced, dynamic image. It’s considered a core photography tenet for good reason, but sometimes bending the rules or throwing them out altogether makes for better, more striking images. For example, if your subject is round, such as a blooming tundra flower, or symmetrical, such as looking through an ornate Scottish abbey’s doorway, centering the image could make more sense.

I highly recommend learning and practicing photography rules and after you have a firm grasp of the concepts, experiment with throwing the rules out the window and see what comes of it.

Dennis Minty using camera

© Victoria Polsoni

Dennis Minty is one of Adventure Canada's exceptional photography guides.

7. Work Those Angles

To avoid the same kind of eye-level photos over and over again, get moving! Look up, look down, and look between objects to create interesting framing. Crouch down or hop up onto a rock to change your perspective. Play around with the composition by layering different objects or people (ask permission!) within the photo to add interest and depth.

Use a wide-angle lens and focus on a familiar object such as a person or the ship to show the vastness of a landscape. Use your zoom lens or get close to your subject to capture details or texture that appeals to your sense of touch. Seek out new angles and perspectives to create exciting images—whatever you need to do to “get the shot,” as they say!

In the same vein, try using the natural variations in lighting conditions resulting from foggy mornings or post-storm sunsets, and take advantage of the unique climatic situations you’re sure to experience on your journey.

Guests photographing Sable Island horses

© Danny Catt

8. Embrace the Everyday

I know it’s tempting to focus all of your attention on capturing the quintessential shot of the famous landmark or gorgeous landscape, but there is beauty in the mundane, everyday moments taking place around you too. While your fellow travellers are busy taking photos of one thing, turn around and see what different perspectives are waiting in the opposite direction.

People-watch and observe what locals are doing and how they go about their daily lives. Our visits to small communities can make a big impact, and we want to be known as respectful guests, so remember to always ask permission before taking a photo of someone or their home.

When possible, take the meandering path or hang back from the group and see what you can see when you slow down. I encourage you to still try to get those postcard perfect shots, but throw in everyday moments or seemingly mundane subjects, too, to create a story with your images.

Guest richard cooper smiling with camera Dundas Harbour

© Victoria Polsoni

Adventure Canada guest Richard Cooper is an avid Nikon user and wildlife photography enthusiast.

9. Switch Modes

The most straightforward, easy to use mode on any camera is Auto. You can end up with some lovely images using this camera mode, but you have significantly less control and less opportunity to be creative. The opposite mode is Manual, which is fantastic because you have complete control over every aspect of how the camera will react. But if you are an amateur photographer like me, you may not have the deepest understanding of aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and how they all interact together.

A nice middle ground is Program mode, and this is usually what my camera is set to. It is a little more sophisticated than Auto but more manageable than Manual because it does a lot of the thinking for you while still allowing you to make your own adjustments.

It may also be worth playing with Shutter (Burst) and Aperture Priority modes. The former is good if you want to capture fast-moving objects, like a humpback whale breaching. The latter is useful for low light conditions, like aurora borealis viewing, where you need as much light as possible to enter the camera.

All of these modes can require some getting used to and may not necessarily be the best options for spur of the moment photo opportunities. Experiment with the different modes available on your camera and you may be pleasantly surprised with the images you can create!

Guest using telephoto lens

© Victoria Polsoni

10. Don’t Be Afraid of the Post-Production Process

After your expedition journey ends, it’s a delight to relive the experience by looking back through your photos. In an age where social media is flooded with filtered and overly processed images, tuning them can either feel like an obligatory step or one to be avoided. I used to be in the latter camp but have started to shift my attitude towards using the post-production process as an integral part of making a photograph instead of simply taking it.

You can certainly accomplish a lot with the camera itself, but playing around with the image with computer software afterwards can take it to the next level. It also saves you from stressing too much about getting your ideal shot in the moment.

I personally like to keep my post-processing straightforward by seeing what the auto tool does first, and then making small adjustments to things like the contrast or the shadows and highlights. My favourite photos have colours and details that pop and are lit according to the mood I’m going for. I also use this step to straighten out the horizon, as I almost always inevitably get overexcited and end up with a crooked landscape!

Lauren with camera

© Lauren Clewes

I hope you find these ten tips useful and inspiring when you're planning your next expedition with Adventure Canada. Photographs are precious memories for so many of us avid travellers. Whether you choose to take your own, rely on the images of our professional photography guides, or a combination of the two, I hope these visual souvenirs bring you joy for years to come.

About the Author

Lauren Clewes

Lauren Clewes

Office Coordinator, Client Services Representative

Lauren is a self-proclaimed bookworm, artist, and amateur travel photographer. Hailing from Oakville, Ontario, Lauren has always sought to travel the world. As a curious and creative individual, Lauren can usually be found reading at least three books at a time, working on her latest knitting project, or trying out an entirely new artistic pursuit.

Her love of travel photography began at an early age, first with disposable cameras and then a small digital camera, which became staples on childhood family trips. At age thirteen, she upgraded to a DSLR, which is now the first item to be packed prior to any adventure.