By Alex Cearns.
Great travel photos tell a story by opening our minds to interpretation and allowing us a glimpse into the lives of others. By considering each image as an individual story we can transform visually stimulating locations, landmarks or scenes into visual drama and a more intense experience for the viewer.

Travelling provides many opportunities to capture candid or quirky moments of a particular time or place. Candid photography can be quite personal and provides an interesting narrative of your experiences on the trip.

Your narrative becomes what you include or exclude from the shot. I try to find a location that provides a clean frame for the image and wait for the right moment to appear. Of course, being an animal photographer, I always try to include animals in my visual stories.


This classic close-up of a tiger poses the questions: Where is it going? What is it after? Subsequent shots could be taken to provide answers; or the photographer can simply leave viewers with these questions to be answered by speculation. © Alex Cearns.

An unexpected opportunity occurred on a recent trip to the Taj Mahal in India. Rather than trying for a typical tourist shot of a very familiar monument, I moved to a more isolated spot in the grounds where I noticed two dogs playing happily together. I positioned myself with the light behind me and waited patiently until I could frame the dogs in the shot with the Taj in the background. Lying on the ground probably looked a little odd to the attendants, but I got the shot I wanted ““ a quirky personal moment at a famous travel destination.


A wide-angle shot with a 24mm lens on a camera with a 36 x 24 mm sensor captures an unusual view of one of the world’s best-known places. © Alex Cearns.

I aim to portray every subject in a fresh new way, so whenever I shoot I spend a few moments contemplating the potential impact and composition of each image. I check for any clutter in the background that might be irrelevant to my story and move my position to get the desired shot.


This very different portrait or a camel focuses upon its eye, blurring the background to eliminate clutter by using a fast f/2.8 aperture setting with a 162mm medium telephoto focal length. © Alex Cearns.

One way I like to heighten the dramatic impact of an image is to allow my eyes to rest on a particularly beautiful texture, pattern, aspect or angle. I focus my lens on that distinctive feature and depending on the result I want, I blur out the background or allow it to completely fill the frame. This allows the subject to become the focus and the viewer’s eye to fall naturally onto the specific subject.

I appreciate the art of black and white photography, but I find the full colour spectrum in nature endlessly inspiring and a magical source of kaleidoscopic colours, patterns and textural stories.


This extreme close-up with a very shallow depth of field presents an unconventional view of a common crab, creating an intriguing pattern and leaving viewers to wonder what the rest of the animal looks like. © Alex Cearns.

All creatures are fascinating to me and no matter where I am in the world my favourite subjects are local animals or wildlife. I LOVE photographing animals in full, glorious colour. Birds are magnificent subjects for colour photography and almost any species can be the perfect subject against a simple background. Their vibrant red pigments, lustrous greens, iridescent blues, and harmonious contrasts make for unique patterns and textures that are simply amazing.

Some important things to remember when photographing animals:

. Be patient. It’s worth waiting for that exact moment to capture something special.

. Look but don’t touch. Take great care not to stress your subjects. Apart from their stress showing in your images, it’s unethical and unpleasant for the animal.

. Research your subject. Finding out how the animal is likely to behave before you shoot makes it easier to anticipate the right moment to take the shot.

. Be safe. Always be aware of your feet, wear sturdy footwear and have a plan to make a quick escape if things get hairy.


This close-up shot of a ring-tailed lemur was taken with the Tamron 150-600mm super zoom lens at 600mm.


Close-ups can add interest to your travel photos and make a worthwhile contribution to slideshows and printed photo books. © Alex Cearns.

I actively avoid disturbing wildlife when I shoot so a high quality zoom lens such as the 70-200mm works well when I am photographing from a distance or when I want to shoot intricate details such as eyes, and it keeps me a safe distance from my subject.

I use my 24-70mm portrait lens for landscape images, to capture a whole wildlife scene or several animals in one shot. The Tamron 150-600mm super telephoto zoom (A011), also known as ‘The Beast’ is my secret weapon, especially for wildlife work. The reach of the 600mm zoom is phenomenal, and allows me to get even closer to my subjects. It produces softly blended blurred backgrounds and is fast in full sun and low light. This lens exceeds my expectations.

My number one cross-check tip is to ensure you are using the correct camera settings for the scene. Incorrect settings can lead to extreme under or over image exposure that sadly, not even the best editing software can fix.

There’s nothing more disheartening than taking a series of images in nature, which you may never see again, only to discover that you forgot to change your camera settings from your last indoor shoot.

„Alex Cearns


Excerpt from  Travel Photography  pocket guide.